“They Called Her The Countess…” Twice The Vice In Riccardo Freda’s DOUBLE FACE.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

Arrow’s creditable crusade to afford decent BD releases to as many Riccardo Freda films as possible continues with this timely edition of Double Face (“A Doppia Faccia”), an Italian / West German co-production that initially emerged in 1969 on the very cusp of Germany’s “krimi” adaptations (and alleged adaptations) of Edgar Wallace potboilers and the Italian giallo cycle that was heavily influenced by but ultimately supplanted them.

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Here John Alexander (Klaus Kinski on uncharacteristically restrained form for one of his earliest leading roles) romances Helen Brown (his frequent Eurotrash co-star Margaret Lee) in whirlwind style (and amid some of the crappiest blue screen work in cinema history) but finds time to repent at leisure as his new bride rapidly cools on him in favour of female lovers, most notably Liz (Annabella Incontrera). On the upside, she makes him the beneficiary of her controlling interest in some ill-defined business empire or other, in the event of her death. Some upside… when Helen’s jaguar crashes (in one of the film’s two poorly mounted miniature RTAs) and she’s burned to an unidentifiable crisp, he becomes Scotland Yard’s number one suspect for her murder (somebody planted an explosive device in the jag…)

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As if he doesn’t have troubles enough, John returns to his impressive country pile from a recuperative break to find that sexy hippy squatter Christine (Christiane Krüger) has moved in. Dismissing her as one of his wife’s ditzy conquests, John is lured to a groovy sex / drugs / motorbike party where he catches a blue movie starring Christine and a veiled woman who, her distinctive jewellery and distinguishing neck scar strongly suggest, is Helen. You’d have to be particularly dim not to suspect that John is being set up for something and he’s probably not too dim to have worked that out for himself, but his curiosity and the tantalising suggestion that his beloved, albeit estranged wife, might still be alive propel him ever further down the rabbit hole…

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Like any self-respecting giallo (and this one is, any way you cut it, more giallo than krimi), Double Face owes much to French crime novelists Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, whose ongoing concerns with thwarted sexual obsession, personal identity and characters who might or might not be dead were adapted to the screen most notably as Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) and Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). Long before he was sucked into Italy’s giallo feeding frenzy, Freda had shown his affinity for these themes in that 1962 milestone of Gothic Cinema known, not coincidentally, as The Horrible Secret Of Dr Hichcock, wherein their necrophiliac foundations were laid startlingly bare.

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Converseley, the Goth trimmings of that one and it’s non sequential companion piece The Ghost Of Dr Hichcock (1963) infect Double Face, whose entrepreneur class inhabit antique mansions scarcely less sumptuously appointed than that of Dr H himself. Freda has a ball indulging his fussy visual style while driving his compelling narrative forward at such pace that you don’t register how little sense it makes until after the end credit has rolled. DB’s FX scenes are as risible as anything in Freda’s Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire  (1971), Tragic Ceremony (1972) or Murder Obsession (1980) and he stages a visit to The Grand National (Edgar Wallace’s parents hailed from Liverpool, incidentally) in true Am-Dram style but he never bailed (as was his wont) on Double Face (though Kinski briefly did after these alpha males had butted heads)… when you sense that his mercurial mind is tiring of the proceedings, the director amuses himself by sending Kinski out sleuthing in a Philip Marlowesque mac and fedora for a paranoid perambulation down Fritz Lang Street… Freda was a more cultured character than many of his contemporaries and when I see this sort of thing, I can’t help feeling that it’s closer to the passages of stylistic parody and pastiche in  Joyce’s Ulysses than standard cheapjack film thievery.

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Hyped as a Wallace adaptation for its German release, Double Face was actually co-written by our old pal Lucio Fulci, who liked its wobbly plot so much that he rehashed elements of it in his own Perversion Story aka One On Top Of Another (which takes its Vertigo fetish so far as to be set in San Francisco) the same year and Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1971). Nora Orlandi’s beautiful main theme was similarly reworked, to spectacular effect, in Sergio Martino’s extraordinary The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971).

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Speaking of Orlandi (with pals, above), in his bonus featurette OST guru Lovely Jon gives us the run down on the great woman and her circle, with some priceless vintage clips. Better still, the lady herself is then interviewed and proves to be a formidable prospect, who by her own account battled to make her way in a man’s world but never took any shit off anybody. She flatly contradicts Lovely Jon’s assertion that she must have learned much from Alessandro Alessandroni, implying instead that without what he learned from her, Alessandroni would never have amounted to much. She’s particularly catty about another rival, Nino Rota and although she got on fine with Romolo Guerrieri (for whom she scored The Sweet Body Of Deborah, 1968), predictably fell out with Freda over his accusation that she recycled cues from picture to picture. Frankly, he had a point, as acknowledged by Orlandi when she jokes: “Better to steal from myself than from somebody else…”

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… unless they lived in the middle ages, of course, Orlandi happily bandying about the volume of medieval music from which she pinched her most celebrated theme. When it was recycled in Kill Bill: Vol. 2, she had to take steps to ensure that she got paid. Endearingly, she admits to not even knowing who Quentin Tarantino was at the time, though now she believes it enhanced her prestige to have her music associated with him. Why not the other way round? Cultural imperialism is a curious thing…

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Other supplementary materials include Amy Simmons’ video essay on Freda’s forays into giallo, an extensive image gallery from the Christian Ostermeier collection (including the original German pressbook and lobby cards, plus the complete Italian cineromanzo adaptation), original Italian and English theatrical trailers, also a reversible sleeve featuring vintage and newly commissioned Graham Humphreys artwork. The first pressing only will include an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on Double Face by Neil Mitchell.

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Tim Lucas’s commentary track is as erudite and informative as ever, though representing something of a change of tack. Unsure about which of the films many edits (see below) he was going to be discussing, TL delivered a lecture rather than the usual scene synchronised commentary. If you close your eyes or turn the picture off this works OK, otherwise there are points at which Tim discussing scene A while scene B unfolds is as jarring as a Dinky toy traffic accident.

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Lensed by Gábor Pogány (who also shot Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii, among many others), Double Face’s bold primary colours, which previous releases have contrived to mute, really pop in this beautiful transfer. At 1:31:26, the main feature runs about four-and-a-half minutes longer than the previously circulated French language / English subtitled bootleg print of “Liz Et Helen” and a full thirteen minutes longer than the Das Gesicht Im Dunkeln version on Universum Film’s epic Krimi DVD box set. I’ve never seen the French version with hard core inserts featuring Franco favourite Alice Arno… hey, what kind of a boy do you think I am?

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