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Black Veil for Lisa, A

Olive Films // R // October 27, 2015
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 7, 2015 | E-mail the Author
Black leather gloves. A mysterious killer draped in shadow. A fruitless investigation by the authorities as corpses continue to pile up.

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Add in its giallo-esque title as well as a directorial credit by What Have You Done to Solange?'s Massimo Dallamano, and a certain picture quickly begins to take shape. A Black Veil for Lisa largely shies away from the conventions so frequently associated with gialli, which makes sense seeing as how it didn't yet have the template perfected by Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage from which to draw. Its murders are not the film's principal allure. The attacks are swift, straightforward, not especially gruesome, and never the culmination of any unnervingly suspenseful setpiece. The body count is low, and the kills prior to the film's climax are out of the way rather quickly. There is no shocking reveal about the killer's identity; we learn fairly early on who's responsible, and, in fact, knowing who's to blame is critical to its premise.

No, A Black Veil for Lisa is less interested in Bava-inspired murder mysteries and draws instead far more deeply from film noir. Thunderball's Luciana Paluzzi once again makes for a hell of a femme fatale as the titular Lisa. Aging narcotics inspector Franz Bulon (Sir John Mills) knows all too well that this achingly gorgeous redhead he'd somehow convinced to marry him is hopelessly out of his league. Consumed by fears of her infidelity, Franz routinely pesters his wife with calls home, taking no peace of mind unless he knows precisely where she is and who she's with at any given moment. It's an obsession that's already started to derail his investigation into a recent rash of drug-related murders. No matter how distracted he may be these days, Franz still wields a gleamingly sharp eye. When hit man Max Lindt (Spasmo's Robert Hoffmann) accidentally drops his lucky coin -- a silver dollar with a slug from a bullet lodged inside -- at one crime scene, Franz quickly connects the dots. Before the inspector can finish dragging Max to headquarters, however, the sight of his wife in an unfamiliar red Porsche sparks a terrifying thought. Franz had not yet gotten around to giving anyone definitive proof of Max's guilt, so why not extort one more murder out of him?

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In the proudest film noir tradition, there is no hero to be found here. Franz is a tragic figure: a once-talented inspector caught in a downward spiral due to his compulsion to control his wife's every move. There's no redeeming a seasoned killer such as Max, no matter how charismatic he may be. His greatest mistake is resisting the temptation to skip town after three successful murders. Lisa, to her part, has a past more shadowy than Franz would like to let on. For much of its runtime, the film revels in a certain ambiguity. Is Lisa, not exactly the warmest and most cuddly of wives, carrying on some sort of affair? She's certainly quick with a convenient explanation whenever her husband pushes her on it, but A Black Veil for Lisa takes care to keep us as in the dark as Franz: suspicious but uncertain. That contributes a great deal of suspense as Franz' murderous scheme takes a series of turns he could never have envisioned.

All three of its key roles have been flawlessly cast, and A Black Veil for Lisa is littered with intriguing characters in smaller roles. The crosseyed newspaper vendor in particular reminds me of the oddball sorts that Argento relished in showcasing in his gialli. The twists and turns are established well, never feeling as if the film's many credited writers are cheaply trying to yank the rug out from under its audience. Its premise feels very much grounded in reality, something that can't often be said about gialli and their penchant for fantastic extremes. Though certainly not in the same league as, say, Double Indemnity -- a film I'm sure inspired Max's briefly-held guise as an insurance salesman -- this is still an effective thriller, elevated further by the cinematic eye of seasoned-cinematographer-turned-director Massimo Dallamano. Recommended.

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This is the Commonwealth United cut of A Black Veil for Lisa, by the way, running 88 minutes in all.

There's a certain look that entirely too many Italian cult films of this vintage have on Blu-ray, courtesy of one poorly-outfitted post-production house in Italy that seemingly every licensor has on speed dial. I'm thrilled to say that A Black Veil for Lisa doesn't suffer from those overly familiar headaches. That's not to say this release isn't without its own flaws, however, and its colors in particular are wildly erratic. A number of moments look somewhat natural and grounded, certain elements are vivid (piercing blue eyes and brilliant yellow tulips, in particular), other sequences emphasize more of a brownish-orange, and then there are those that...well:

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This presentation is at its most impressive when the camera is pulled in fairly tightly, showcasing a respectable level of detail and clarity. This Blu-ray disc often looks rather soft, though:

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It's appreciated that A Black Veil for Lisa's filmic texture hasn't been digitally scrubbed away, although its AVC encode does struggle with it somewhat. There is a fair amount of speckling as well as a number of thin, vertical scratches, but those aren't terribly intrusive. Despite these flaws, I didn't find that any of them materially impacted my enjoyment of A Black Veil for Lisa as a movie, and I'd readily choose a presentation like this over the releases devoid of detail and riddled with analog video noise that have filtered through LVR's hands. This disc absolutely exceeds my expectations, and I'd hope that the imperfections highlighted here will not discourage anyone who's interested from picking it up.

A Black Veil for Lisa splays itself across a single layer Blu-ray disc at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.

Presented here in 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio and in two-channel mono, A Black Veil for Lisa is offered exclusively in English: presumably the only audio available for this particular cut of the film. Considering that virtually every Italian/German co-production of this sort starred actors who didn't share a common language and would have all of their dialogue looped in post-production anyway, English is arguably as valid an option as any. It's a strong showing to boot: well above average for a giallo -- or something giallo-adjacent, anyway -- from the late 1960s. The dialogue throughout A Black Veil for Lisa is consistently rendered cleanly and clearly, and its score is more full-bodied than expected. Its background noise is too mild to pose any real distraction, and its handful of more overt flaws -- a sputter in the soundtrack following a near-miss on the road; a pop as the film draws to a close -- are readily dismissed.

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There are no other audio options.


The Final Word
Though A Black Veil for Lisa is not altogether the giallo it's so often classified as being, this sharply cast, noir-inspired thriller is too compelling for me to fret about those sorts of labels. I believe this is its first home video release on these shores since the VHS era, making A Black Veil for Lisa all the more worthy a discovery on Blu-ray. Recommended.
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