Helmed by by Enzo Castellari of the original Inglorious Bastards, Cold Eyes of Fear (also known as Desperate Moments in the United States) shows bursts of directorial creativity, but it feels as if the essence of the movie is lost in translation. Although I can't find any concrete information online as to whether the English dub on this DVD is any more "definitive" than an Italian-language version (some Italian films have dubs in their homeland as well), but this performance-heavy movie struggles with all the usual hallmarks of a bad dub, from strange sentence structure and weak performances, all the way through to flat-out silly voices.
Primarily, Cold Eyes ought to be a dramatic show-piece for Wolff. As the mysterious intruder, he's charismatic, he's frightening, he's desperate, and he's insane. With each new scene and challenge, Wolff gets another chance to show off his dramatic chops and one-up everyone else in the room. Sadly, as the most dialogue-heavy performance in the movie, Wolff's also the one who takes the biggest hit from the film's strange English audio, which clearly doesn't sync up emotionally with what Wolff is doing on screen. One dramatic line reading, which Wolff appears to be yelling, is delivered in English with the intensity of a guy checking out at a gas station. Although the visual aspect of his performance remains intact -- the beads of sweat on his face, the anxiousness in his eyes -- it's only half of what he's attempting to deliver.
It could be argued that Mateos gets the shorter end of the stick, with the actor hired to dub him in English adopting a voice that sounds something like an early Borat impression done through the nose, but his character is less involved, spending a chunk of the movie unconscious. Rey is replaced by a generic American actor who plays it mostly like a soap opera. Still, the fact that Rey and Garko are in different places and must communicate by telephone helps maintain some of the tension; a scene where Wolff has a gun trained on Garko while they talk on the phone (and Garko attempts to devise some sort of message about his predicament) is still pretty gripping, because the tension comes from the situation, and not the intentionally banal dialogue between the characters.
Castellari, for his part, does a good job. Although the film is front-loaded with character and dialogue situations, some opportunities for flair arise in the second half. The appearance of a bomb rigged to a door leads to a wonderfully stylish shot from behind the doorknob, and a car short car chase crackles with tension and kinetic excitement. The film's best scene involves a cat squeezing into a tiny space, which Castellari stages with just the right undercurrent of humor. Sadly, these little morsels just increase the desire to see the film as it was originally intended -- these would make for fantastic escalating beats in a film where the groundwork wasn't mucked up. Some people can deal with dubs, and some movies can handle the extra pressure, but as a first time viewer of Cold Eyes of Fear, the loss of Italian was a fatal blow.
The Video and Audio
As mentioned in the review, the audio is more disappointing. The only track on this release is an English dub. Although many Italian films were produced without a true "original" language, IMDb says the original language was Italian, and the packaging refers to it as a dub, so I'm operating under the assumption that there was an Italian track at some point. In terms of the actual sound of the track, it's a little rough around the edges but basically clear, with a nice representation of Morricone's frantic score, but the separation from the picture is obvious even ignoring the loss of the actors' original line readings. Frustratingly (given the constant fluctuation in volume), there are no subtitles or closed captions.