Arrow Video: Double Face (1969) - Reviewed

A little bit giallo, a little bit gothic, and a whole lot of sexy:  Riccardo Freda’s 1969 thriller Double Face emulates many styles of film, but is a creature all its own.  Rife with deception, suspense, and seduction, the film takes the audience to both the most elegant and seediest of places in '60s London, and thanks to its cinematography, strong cast, and killer score, it’s a trip worth embarking upon.

Millionaire John Alexander (Klaus Kinski) and his wife Helen (Margaret Lee) haven’t been getting along.  In fact, John has good reason to believe she’s a lesbian after catching her in a tender moment with her “friend” Liz.  On the brink of divorce, Helen decides to take a vacation to clear her head, and her car explodes along the way after a bomb has been placed in it.  Who would do such a thing?  John seems like an obvious suspect, but it’s not that simple.  The plot thickens when he meets a sultry trespasser named Christine (Christiane Krüger), who lures him into a party where a porn is being shown starring a shrouded woman and Christine herself.  After noticing the mystery woman in the film has his wife’s telltale scar and snake ring and learning the film was shot only days ago, he begins to suspect something is amiss and is determined to uncover the truth.

We see a side of Klaus Kinski previously unexplored here: that of a refined leading man mourning his wife’s death, yet hardened by the world in which he has become inadvertently entangled.  Rather than the crazed Kinski we are accustomed to, he is stoic throughout most of Double Face.  There is something refreshing about seeing him in a role like this, and perhaps one of the best reasons to watch the film.  His supporting cast is equally intriguing: Christiane Krüger’s performance is magnetic and playful, while the sparse times we see Margaret Lee, whose character is the antithesis to Krüger’s own, are a pleasure to watch.

The body count and gore are minimal here, but the film’s investigative nature, lush color schemes, and occasional kink make it a mystery worthy of a giallo categorization.  The dramatic piano score and shadowy shots of John’s mansion bring gothic elements to this film, while there are other moments that are purely that of a krimi film.  Although Double Face has no outwardly supernatural horror elements, there is something haunting about the way the story is told that leaves a lasting impact on the viewer.

The only glaring issue with the film is its subpar special effects.  The car explosions are clearly models, and there is a scene shot on blue screen near the beginning that is laughably bad.  While certainly not a deal-breaker, it is unfortunate, because it detracts from the natural grace this film has and takes the viewer out of the moment.  There is an occasional issue with pacing that make certain scenes drag and the ending feel abrupt, but this is a minor transgression that can be overlooked.

Arrow’s 2K restoration of Double Face is exceptionally good: the picture and sound are notably impressive, bringing new life to the saturated colors and brilliant soundtrack of the film.  They also offer the option of both the English and Italian language versions, as well as an extensive image gallery.  The special features will be a delight for any music fan: Nora Orlandi, the film’s talented composer, is given an especially large homage.  Not only are we bestowed a new interview with her, but also an in-depth video exploring the vast scope of her career by the musician and soundtrack connoisseur Lovely Jon.  For those of you unfamiliar with Orlandi’s work (and doubly so for those that are), these features are an engaging look at her multifaceted career that are worth exploring.  The Blu-ray also features a video essay on Riccardo Freda’s career as a giallo director, highlighting his other classics like The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire and The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock, in addition to its insightful examination of Double Face

Any fan of Klaus Kinski and thrillers should watch Double Face, especially now that it has been meticulously restored by Arrow.  It is a film that will keep one guessing, and is not immediately what it seems.  Beautiful, captivating, and ever-so-slightly sleazy, it is a perfect combination of ingredients to celebrate much of what made Riccardo Freda’s films so appealing.

--Andrea Riley