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Four Flies on Grey Velvet (Dario Argento’s most elusive film) 
Written by: on May 1st, 2006

Theatrical Release Date:
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, 1971
Director: Dario Argento
Writers: Dario Argento, Luigi Cozzi, Mario Foglietti, Bryan Edgar Wallace
Cast: Michael Brandon, Mimsy Farmer, Bud Spencer, Jean-Pierre Marielle

DVD released: TBA
Approximate running time: 104 mins
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Rating: Not Rated
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1/ DTS/ 2.0
DVD Release: blue underground
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: TBA

Roberto, a musician, notices he is being followed and confronts the man after rehearsals one night. In an empty theatre, the two struggle, a knife is pulled and the stalker gets stabbed. All this is witnessed from the gallery by a masked photographer. When Roberto starts to get threatening notes and night visits he engages the help of his friends, God and the Professor, as well as a largely unsuccessful Private Eye, Arrosio. His maid falls victim to his blackmailer, as does Arrosio when he gets too close and then Maria, his wife’s cousin. Roberto buys a gun and decides to face off the night visitor when they next arrive on a stormy night.

The final film in Argento’s Animal trilogy is a blackmail thriller with whimsical characters and dodgy science thrown in. It is a film that has had few proper releases and that fans have relied on poor quality dupes and cobbled together grey market versions to see. Roberto is a character that Brandon based on Dario and the physical resemblance is quite striking. After it’s relatively poor reception, Dario sought refuge in a TV series and the altogether different affair of Five Days in Milan.

Four Flies shows Argento experimenting more with filmmaking technique and taking risks in his writing of characters. The opening of the film is a montage of Roberto being followed by his stalker intercut with a rehearsal of Roberto’s band where he is pursuing a troublesome fly. The ironic juxtaposition here kinda makes fun of the very set up of the movie with Roberto killing both irritants after he pursues his stalker. Similarly the masked photographer who photographs the murder is wearing such an inappropriate mask that this again seems a deliberately playful device. This playfulness extends itself to the knowing writing of character. One character is referred to as God and is constantly used for advice, which is nearly always right, and is introduced by a “hallelujah” in Morricone’s score.

Best of all in technique in Four Flies is some wonderful uses of Mixage. When Roberto visits Arrosio, the sound of his cars engine drives him up the steps and into Arrosio’s office. This then makes the contrast between the surging narrative and the camp chilled Private Eye even more fun. Arrosio is a wonderful character, a detective with 84 failures and not one success who is delighted to solve the case even though in doing so it brings his end.

The thriller conventions are further satirized in the revealing of the killer. The old wives’ tale about eyes retaining the last image they see like a camera is used and this reveal is signaled in the title of the film, not only that but this reveal is backed up by a piece of animation to show the audience how four flies on grey velvet happened! Similarly the dreams of Brandon about decapitation foreshadow how justice will be delivered – very witty stuff.

This playing with the preposterous and deliberate fun with character is one of the strong points of Four Flies and far more enjoyable than the hokey thriller at it’s core. Brandon is very good as a Dario surrogate, and the fun supporting cast are uniformly excellent. Morricone delivers his best early Argento score mixing prog rock with the atonal squawks that peppered Bird. Four Flies is a film by a director spreading his wings and outgrowing his genre. This creativity would reach it’s zenith with Profondo Rosso but Four Flies is an immensely enjoyable giallo.

The DVD:

Four Flies is released as a 2 disc set. The first disc includes the full film presented with a spotless anamorphic transfer, all of the inserts are in English unlike previous French prints. The film has an excellent contrast balance which serves the multitude of night scenes well. The film is presented with number of sound options – Italian mono, and newly created DTS and 5.1 surround tracks for the English dub. This is the first time you will have heard the final scenes in all their stormy magnificence. English subtitles are included for the Italian dub. The feature also carries a commentary from Maitland McDonagh and William Lustig who are expecially insightful.

The extras disc includes a documentary on the Battle for Four Flies where Lustig explains how Paramount were eventually persuaded to part with the rights when he signed over his soul to the lord Lucifer. There are interviews with Dario, Mimsy Farmer and Brandon. Best of all the set comes with a copy of Morricone’s soundtrack.

Four Flies is the most glaring omission on DVD for any fan of giallo. The review above would be great to see but it would take Paramount to budge from their presently unconscionable stance of holding the rights but not releasing the film. There is an online petition you can sign here.

Note: This title has not been officially announced and their fore any specs listed or discussed in this review are pure speculations.

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