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A Double Face


A Doppia Faccia / Liz et Helen
Riccardo Freda - 1969

Another visit to a film seen as a grey market DVD, although I just found out it is currently available on Amazon Prime. The version I saw was the French language version of Freda's film, signed under his pseudonym of Robert Hampton. Visually, this looks like a dub made from a video tape, lacking in some detail and accurate color. I passed on getting this on what may well have been a better version about ten years ago, but I'm OK with that.

Not a horror film, but there are moments that will remind those familiar with Freda's better known work. John Alexander meets Helen Brown, daughter of a wealthy businessman, at a ski resort. The two get married, and John gets to work for Helen's father. John and Helen's relationship is uneasy when John sees his wife sharing bath time with Liz. Helen talks John out of getting a divorce, reminding him that even though he works for her father, Helen owns most of the company stock, a fortune that John would inherit should Helen die. And indeed, Helen is the victim when someone plants an incendiary device in her car.

And like several other Freda movies, is the victim truly dead? A mysterious woman, Christine, shows up at John's house, playing Helen's favorite song on a tape recorder. At a warehouse party, Christine takes John to the makeshift theater showing a film with Christine having an encounter with a woman, nude, with an oversized necklace, and for John, a familiar ring on one hand, and scar on the back of her neck. The face is obscured by a large black hat with thick black veil.

The scene where John discovers Christine begins with a shot of Klaus Kinski as John walking up the stairs of his dark mansion, carrying a lit candelabra. The camera is tilted down from second floor so Kinski is seeing initially at the bottom of the steps. It's an image not dissimilar from Freda's other gothic films. A Double Face isn't a horror film, but there a times when it seems like it could be with just a bit of tweaking. And the scene with the big reveal at the end is that other major moment that recalls that Freda made Italy's first contemporary horror film almost ten years earlier.

John buys the film of Christine and the mystery woman, watching it alone, reviewing and rewinding the footage that appears to provide clues to the woman's identity. The next day, John watches the movie with his father-in-law. The movie looks exactly the same, except the woman in question is not wearing a ring, nor does she have a scar on her neck. And aside from being a narrative plot point, the scene could well be read as an observation on film viewing and memory. I know for myself there have have been moments or entire scenes that I was certain were part of a film that turn out not to be there when I revisit the film in question.

What also makes this film unusual is seeing Kinski as an uncharacteristically meek man, easily acquiescing to his wife, seemingly helpless when his father-in-law tells him to take responsibility for the business. The other bright spot is the score by Nora Orlandi, credited her as Joan Christian. Orlandi only has a few film scores to her credit, and much of this is piano based based, thundering and dramatic before moving to a more romantic musical theme. Orlandi started her career writing and singing pop songs, and this film has "Non Dirmi Una Bugia" which translates as "Don't tell me lies". Even though Freda did not think much of A Double Face, it's a film worthy of greater consideration.

liz et helen.jpg

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