It's deemed an accident, though the press and police alike find it unsettling that John would spend the weeks following his wife's untimely death jetsetting across Europe. His icy demeanor and the explanation that follows do little to convince others that John is, in his own way, grieving. He's not quite the opportunist many assume him to be, however. Even when John discovers nubile eighteen year old Christine (Christiane Krüger) – fully nude, of course – squatting in his palatial home, he doesn't want a damned thing to do with her. She leads John down a psychedelic rabbit hole, culminating in the screening of a lesbian stag film. One of its stars never shows her face, but she wears Helen's distinctive ring and has a scar on her neck also precisely matching that of John's late wife. The film was shot just a few days ago, long after the accident. Could Helen somehow have emerged alive from that flaming wreck? Is John, as the authorities increasingly suspect, to blame for that catastrophe? Is some sort of reckoning at hand?
Double Face is invariably described as a combination of krimi and giallo – one genre in decline, the other ascendent. In many ways, it's the worst of both worlds. Double Face has no interest in any of its central characters being particularly likeable or sympathetic. We're unable to place ourselves in the shoes of doggedly determined police investigators. We aren't wounded by the swift loss of Helen. More troublesome still, Double Face's ambiguity about John's role in all this confuses ambiguity for intrigue. Though there's the dramatic irony of the audience being well-aware that this was no accident, the film wants us to be uncertain whether or not John engineered the fiery explosion. Kinski's performance is icy and taciturn. John says little, perhaps to avoid revealing anything more to viewers than necessary. He rarely shows any overt signs of grief. But with no character to cheer on, no one to root against, and too little of interest occurring along the way, Double Face isn't terribly compelling.
Those who perk up at the mention of giallo, expecting a leather gloved maniac and a series of visceral murders, will surely be disappointed. There's effectively nothing along those lines, and what few special effects are to be had are...well:
The intrigue largely revolves around some unseen puppet master's machinations. John is being toyed with, like a cat batting around a mouse. For instance, he awakes from a drug-induced stupor to find his late wife's furs replaced by the black veil of The Countess from the porn reel. For nearly the entirety of Double Face's runtime, though, the twists and turns aren't anything remarkable. The questions it poses – who died in the fiery wreck? who's to blame? to what end is John being manipulated? – don't leave me in desperate need of answers. Kinski playing against type in a rather subdued performance is more compelling in theory than in practice. At least the proceedings are livened up by a considerable amount of nudity, most memorably the trippy Happening in London with bikers tearing off the clothes of dancing, nubile flower children. And, in true giallo fashion, Double Face does culminate in a gloriously over-the-top finalé, though it doesn't salvage the largely uninvolving hour and a half preceding it.
Double Face is a competently crafted film. The cast acquits itself well, comprised largely of faces more than familiar to those who follow Italian and German genre cinema. The production design and cinematography are often striking, and it's little wonder that Nora Orlandi and her score are a focal point of this disc's extras. Aside from those laughably wretched effects from very early in the movie, Double Face doesn't really embarrass itself. Though hardly a disaster, neither is it an involving, masterfully paced thriller. Difficult to recommend sight-unseen.
There are so many moments throughout Double Face where I found myself awestruck:
From its very first shot, the clarity and detail on display at effectively every turn eclipsed my expectations. Though L'Immagine Ritrovata fielded the 2K restoration, Double Face was graded in London, so the severe tints so often associated with Ritrovata's work are not an issue in the slightest. Particularly impressive are the rich oranges of the car wreck as well as the rainbow hues of the psychedelic happening. Shadow detail remains robust throughout; inky though they are, dark city streets and the suit worn by a grieving John are never devoured by a sea of impenetrable black. The presentation is every bit as filmic as I'd hoped to see, and I'm sure it goes without saying that there are no missteps or hiccups in the compression either.
The blue screen skiing sequence has some presumably baked-in wear, and there is some deliberate damage on the film-within-a-film. Otherwise, there's really only one brief moment that doesn't look exceptional. Around 72 minutes in, when John confronts Liz in the Globe Theatre, the colors noticeably shift and the image softens. It's limited to a single shot, although it's a somewhat lengthy one:
Not that any of that is genuinely a concern; I'm just being unnecessarily thorough. This breathtaking presentation of Double Face is lightly letterboxed to preserve its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and the film with its extras come close to maxing out the capacity of this dual-layered disc.
Double Face features 24-bit, uncompressed monaural audio in both English and Italian. The film branches to different opening and closing credits, depending on which language is selected. Per usual, I opted to watch Double Face in its entirety in Italian, and I went back afterwards and sampled a few sequences in English. As all of the dialogue you're hearing was recorded in post-production regardless, there's no canonically correct soundtrack, and it's all a matter of personal preference. If you're curious how the two compare, I've recorded the following from John and Christine's initial conversation in his bedroom:
Everything I'm hearing sounds marvelous. Although I could detect some light background noise at times, it's far too mild to ever pose a distraction. The monaural audio is impressively clean and clear throughout, not tarnished by so much as the faintest flicker of distortion. There are no overt flaws to speak of at all, honestly. I'm floored by both the reproduction of the dialogue and the presentation of Nora Orlandi's terrific score. As close to perfection as I could hope for, as if anyone would expect less from Arrow.
Two English subtitle streams are provided – one subtitled for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English track, and the other a proper translation of the Italian audio. Also included is an audio commentary, although as film historian Tim Lucas notes, that might not be quite the term for it.
Graham Humphreys' artwork looks phenomenal, though if that's not to your tastes, the reversible cover features vintage artwork under the film's Italian title, A doppia faccia. The liner notes include Neil Mitchell's engaging and well-researched essay "A Bastard Child: Double Face", which explores Freda's intermingling of genres, meta-commentary on sexual and violent imagery via the film-within-a-film, and both its difficult production and convoluted release. Double Face is coded for Region A.
The Final Word
Arrow Video has delivered as spectacular a release of Double Face as could be hoped for, with well over three hours of extras and a world-class presentation. Longtime admirers of the film will doubtless be thrilled, and for them, it comes very highly recommended. Those who've yet to be introduced to Double Face, this thriller-in-name-only is too uninvolving and glacially paced to recommend shelling out thirtysomeodd dollars as a purchase sight-unseen.