Written by: Michael Den Boer on January 24th, 2009
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: February 24th, 2009
Approximate running time: 102 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English, Dolby Digital Mono Italian
DVD Release: Mya Communication
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: $29.95
The score for Four Flies on Grey Velvet was composed by Ennio Morricone who had previously composed the score for the other two films which make up the Animal trilogy. For each film in the Animal trilogy Ennio Morricone would create a distinctively different sound. His score for Four Flies on Grey Velvet stands out as his most inventive of the three scores. The musical motif which plays over the film’s final moments and appears throughout the film is a classic example of Ennio Morricone’s ability to create beautiful yet melancholy motifs. It has been reported that Dario Argento had a falling out with Ennio Morricone over the score and there next collaboration would come twenty five years later, The Stendhal Syndrome. Another rumor that has made its rounds is that Dario Argento had at one point considered using the rock band Deep Purple to score the film.
The main difference plot wise where Four Flies on Grey Velvet diverges from the other two films in the Animal trilogy is that the protagonist enlists the help of private investigator to help him solve the mystery. Structure wise Four Flies on Grey Velvet evolves a even pace that allows just enough information to come forth without giving away to much. The film’s ending is one of Dario Argento’s best with its slow motion execution of the killer. One of Four Flies on Grey Velvet’s strongest assets is its witty dialog that perfectly suits this most unusual thriller. If there is one weakness in the plot it is the elements that are more science driven like a retina retaining the last thing someone see’s before death.
Visually Dario Argento continues to experiment with a few standout moments like a scene where the maid calls the killer and the maid’s subsequent meeting with the killer at the park. Another innovative use of style is when the film’s main character Roberto Tobias goes to meet the private investigator for the first time. The sounds of his approaching car are intercut with a roving camera that moves towards the private investigator’s office. The aforementioned slow motion ending culminates the impending doom that has been plaguing Robert Tobias in his dreams.
Something that the films of Dario Argento all have in common is that they all are filled with many colorful secondary characters. Four Flies on Grey Velvet has a handful of baroque characters like the gay private detective who has never solved any of his eighty four cases, the bumbling mailman and a nosy neighbor who always gets the crippled neighbor man’s Swedish porn.
Despite working primary in the thriller genre comedy is something that is present in the majority of Dario Argento’s films. Also it is not surprising that Four Flies on Grey Velvet has the most comedy of the three films in the Animal trilogy. Especially since it is well known that by the time he was making Four Flies on Grey Velvet he had already grown tired of the thriller genre and his next film The Five Days of Milan would mark his only foray in the comedy genre.
The two performances that standout the most are Mimsy Farmer as Nina Tobias and Jean-Pierre Marielle as Gianni Arrosio (the gay detective). Both of these performances come dangerously close to going over the edge. The film’s most surprising role is Michael Brandon in the film’s lead role of Roberto Tobias. He does a exceptional job portraying someone who has been cornered and forced to face his fears head on. Another performance of note is Bud Spencer cast in the type of role that he plays oh so well. Ultimately Four Flies on Grey Velvet is an underrated thriller that has remained in the shadows for far too long.
Four Flies on Grey Velvet is presented in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the film’s original aspect ratio. This transfer has been flagged for progressive playback. The DVD case also proclaims that the transfer was sourced from original vault elements. The first thing that immediately grabs you while watching this transfer is how rich the colors look. The colors while vibrant never look too oversaturated. Flesh tones look healthy and accurate. Another thing that stands out with this transfer is the amount of detail in every frame. However the film does have many scenes that take place at night or in dimly lit areas and during some of these scenes the clarity is not as sharp as the rest of the film. Contrast levels fare well and black levels remain string throughout. There are no problems with compression or artifacts and edge enhancement is kept to a minimum. Overall this transfer is going to come as a revelation to those who have suffered through all the previous home video releases.
This release comes with two audio options English and Italian. Both audio options are presented in a Dolby Digital mono. The English audio mix has noticeable hiss that varies throughout. There are some distortion issues most notably when the score for the film is playing and the timber of the actor’s voices. The Italian audio mix sounds cleaner and more balanced. During the film’s climax there are two brief sections that were never dubbed into English and they are in Italian. For these reinstated sections English subtitles have been included. During the rest of the Italian audio mix there are no English subtitles.
Extras for this release include the film’s Italian release trailer (2 minutes 37 seconds, Anamorphic Widescreen, title cards in Italian with no English subtitles), a English language teaser (1 minutes 1 second, 1.33:1 Full Frame), the U.S. theatrical trailer (2 minutes 21 seconds, Letterboxed Widescreen), English language opening and closing credits (5 minutes 33 seconds, Anamorphic Widescreen) and a poster & photo gallery (41 images). The lack of an audio commentary or interviews is disappointing especially since this film has had a trouble release history and is easily one of the most wanted cult movies waiting for its first official DVD release. Overall Four Flies on Grey Velvet finally arrives on DVD and while it may not be the definitive release fans had hoped for this release fare exceeds all previous home video releases of this film, recommended.
Note: Since the release of this DVD there have been reports that this release is missing about 40 seconds of footage and that there are problems with the English audio track. I recently had a chance to talk with a representative from Mya Communications who addressed both issues.
“The missing footage is not “cut”, it’s the result of print damage at the point of reel changes. Everything that was on the original negative is now on the DVD. This movie was shot in 1971: we were lucky that the negative was (for the most part) in relatively good conditions.
Regarding the English soundtrack, we had access to the original English negative soundtrack as well. However the negative English soundtrack was in such a bad shape that could not be repaired or used at all (probably for careless storage). We had to use a positive English print, which was better, but far from perfect. The result was the best that could be done.” – Marcello Rossi