ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Double Face (1969) starring Klaus Kinski Blu Ray (Arrow)
Is John’s dead wife still alive?
This Italian/West German co-production features Klaus Kinski as John Alexander, a wealthy British businessman whose wife Helen (Margaret Lee) appears to have been killed in a car crash that was a deliberate act of sabotage. Sometime later, while he still grieves from the incident, he discovers that a mysterious young bohemian woman named Christine (Christiane Krüger) has been squatting in his home. While he is initially furious at this young lady’s audacity, she manages to charm and then subsequently lure him to a party in another part of town.
After they arrive, she shows him a lesbian pornographic video featuring herself and another woman whose face is hidden by a veil. Partway through the film, John notices a small scar on the back of her neck which looks exactly the same as the one his wife had. He becomes convinced that this mysterious woman is his supposedly deceased wife and decides to embark on a quest to find her.
Meanwhile, a Scotland Yard inspector named Stevens (Günther Stoll) is assigned to investigate the crash. He begins to harbour suspicions that John may have been responsible for his wife’s death.
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A stylish but dull mystery
Double Face is notable for being part of two distinct, yet decidedly similar, European horror/thriller cycles: the German krimi (that were a series of Edgar Wallace adaptations) and the Italian giallo (that were either straight adaptations of lurid crime novels written by Edgar Wallace and various other writers, or were original works vaguely inspired by them). It was directed by Riccardo Freda, an Egyptian-Italian genre movie director who is arguably less well known nowadays for his own works than for mentoring the legendary Mario Bava.
Freda certainly displays a considerable flair for atmosphere here, turning his hand equally well to the candelabra-lit gothic style of our main protagonist’s opulent home, and to the Swinging Sixties psychedelia of the warehouse party to which the latter is lured at one point. Once you add in some imaginative production design by Luciano Spadoni and a stimulating classical/jazz/pop soundtrack by Nora Orlandi, the end result is certainly easy on both the eyes and ears.
Unfortunately, the mystery itself is a little on the boring side. It works in three different angles, namely “Did he murder his wife?”, “Is she still alive?” and “Is he simply going insane?” However, none of these effectively maintain a solid grip on the viewer in the way that a good mystery/thriller should. The various twists and turns won’t shock seasoned viewers since they basically amount to the usual hackneyed, contrived stuff that litters this sort of film. Of course, many subsequent giallo cycle entries (such as the films of Dario Argento, Sergio Martino and Massimo Dallamano) have successfully offset their banal, contrived plots via lashings of eroticism, blood-splattered murdering and energetic chase sequences. Here, however, we mostly just get a lot of scenes involving Klaus Kinski traipsing warily around one stylishly lit and decorated setting after another. As magnetically imposing a screen presence as Mr. Kinski could be, he rarely gets to be in his element here, bar a scene where he threatens one hapless woman with disfigurement via broken glass.
The film’s budgetary limitations also laid bare at times when we are left watching very obvious bits of stock footage, process shots and miniature work. This is particularly noticeable during a scene set in Switzerland featuring Klaus Kinski and Margaret Lee in front of a rear-projected snowy landscape, as well as during two car crashes featuring hilarious bouncing toy miniatures.
Die-hard European genre cinema buffs may well find Double Face to be of some interest. However, the casual viewer will doubtless wonder what all of the fuss is about in this case.
Runtime: 91 mins
Dir: Riccardo Freda
Script: Riccardo Freda, Lucio Fulci, Paul Hengge, Romano Migliorini, Gianbattista Mussetto, from a novel by Edgar Wallace
Starring: Klaus Kinski, Christiane Krüger, Günther Stoll, Annabella Incontrera, Sydney Chaplin, Barbara Nelli, Margaret Lee
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
This picture looks fantastic in terms of rich colours (reds, purples, blues, greens) and sharp detail. Sound-wise, it’s about as good as it can get considering the usual Italian genre cinema policy of dubbing everything in post. Nora Orlandi’s music sounds great here and really adds to the atmosphere.
Audio Commentary by Tim Lucas
Film scholar and Euro cinema buff Tim Lucas acknowledges that his approach here is unusual (at least for him): rather than commenting directly on the scenes as they play, he provides more of a detailed video essay on the film. He discusses Edgar Wallace, the krimi and giallo cycles, biographies for the cast and crew and so on.
He is refreshingly honest about Double Face’s numerous shortcomings. While the budget was apparently the equivalent of about $720,000 (which was fairly sizeable for a European genre film of this type made in the late-1960s), he rightly points out that it doesn’t show in the shoddy on-screen effects. Interestingly, the unconvincing miniatures were created by Eros Bacciucchi, who worked on all of the Sergio Leone’s films up to and including Once Upon a Time in the West. This suggests that a lack of time and/or budget, rather than a lack of talent, was to blame for this weakness.
He points out that the cast includes two actors with famous parents: Sydney Chaplin was the son of Charlie. whereas Christiane Krüger was the daughter of Hardy. He also discusses the volatile working relationship between director Riccardo Freda and Klaus Kinski. Since they were both autocratic in nature, they frequently clashed on set and, at one point, the latter walked off the picture. Freda lured the tempestuous star back by approaching Federico Fellini to hire a lookalike who was working on one of the latter’s films.
The film was a flop in Germany because it received adults-only censorship certificate, thus meaning that the many younger Edgar Wallace fans couldn’t see it. In fact, its failure meant that no more Wallace adaptations would be released for another two years. It didn’t fare much better in Italy either and its French release was delayed by no less than five years. It wasn’t shown in America until 1992 when it went straight to television.
The Many Faces of Nora Orlandi
Soundtrack collector Lovely Jon takes a look at Nora Orlandi’s career via this superb 43-minute appreciation piece. With the help of an impressive amount of sourced TV and film footage, he discussers her early work in two different choirs, her collaborations with Robby Poitevin and a number of her better-known spaghetti western and giallo soundtracks, before looking in more detail at the various pieces which make up Double Face’s score. He also notes that she is now a judge on an Italian talent show.
7 Notes for a Murder
It’s the musical lady herself! A lengthy interview with Nora Orlandi, who talks about her lifelong passion for music and some of her most notable work - some of which she plays on piano here. She also touches upon her discovery that Quentin Tarantino included one of her pieces in the soundtrack for his film Kill Bill: Volume 2. Despite the fact that he didn’t ask her permission beforehand (she only learned about it through a friend), she clearly appreciates the boost that it gave to her reputation.
The Terrifying Dr. Freda
An excellent video essay on Riccardo Freda’s gothic horror and giallo entries presented by author and critic Amy Simmons. The films she takes a look at are I, Vampiri (which was completed by Mario Bova after Freda walked off set), The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, The Ghost, Double Face (of course), The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire, Tragic Ceremony and Murder Obsession. The inclusion of footage from all of these films makes me very keen to check them out - despite the fact that Double Face isn’t particularly great in itself.
The extras are rounded out by a collector’s booklet, image gallery and trailers.
While not bereft of style, Double Face is surprisingly dull. Nonetheless, it comes recommended for all Euro genre movie fans due to its fabulous extras which provide a wealth of information about both director Riccardo Freda and composer Nora Orlandi.