Four Flies On Grey Velvet

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Of all the films Dario Argento has directed, none is as elusive as his third and final fauna-titled FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET. The reasons for this are unclear as Argento was a hot property at the time he shot the film in the summer of 1971. Released theatrically by Paramount Pictures in the United States in 1972, the PG-rated FOUR FLIES stars Michael Brandon as Roberto Tobias, a drummer in a band who is followed by a mysterious man in a dark coat and glasses. After much harassing, Roberto confronts and accidentally kills him, and at the same time is photographed by a mysterious person wearing a mask. As the days progress, Roberto is taunted by this person who leaves evidence about the murder lying about Roberto's apartment. His wife Nina (Mimsy Farmer of THE PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK) spends much time trying to get Roberto to explain his aloof and pre-occupied demeanor and when he finally does, she is shocked and frightened at the prospect that he is being blackmailed by the photographer of the murder he apparently committed. The remainder of the film depicts Roberto seeking the help of a sort of eccentric private detective in the form of God (short for Godfrey, the character of which is a holdover from "The Screaming Mimi", the novel upon which Argento's own THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE was based) who owns a parrot named Jerkoff (don't ask); Nina introducing her friend Dalia (the impossibly attractive Francine Racette, Donald Sutherland's wife of the last 26 years) to Roberto; and a flagrantly and offensively gay detective who discovers the murderer's identity too late. The titular clue refers to the fictitious notion that the last image seen by a person just before they die is retained indefinitely on their retina, a device exploited to chilling effect in Eugenio Martin's HORROR EXPRESS.

The film is one of Argento's least interesting works, and its biggest problem is that it's very slow. It meanders a bit too much, and does not possess the same level of suspense as his film debut did. There is much here to recommend though, not the least of which is Ennio Morricone's wonderful musical score, his third for Argento at the time; an erotic bathtub encounter featuring a brief sexual interlude; several interesting set pieces; and an ending that is so out of the blue one is inclined to viewing it again just to make sure that they are seeing what they think they are seeing.

The film is now available on a limited edition German Region 2 DVD with English, German, and Italian dialog tracks. What makes this DVD worth owning is the fact that it appears to be the most complete version available of this film to date. While far from a legitimate version, the film is presented in the film's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and while not transferred from the original negative, the film is culled from a variety of sources. Most of it appears to be from a used 35mm anamorphic theatrical print, with some missing footage added from a VHS transfer. While not the best quality, it is certainly watchable, and an absolute must for any serious Argento fan given that the film has never been available on DVD before.

Reviewed by Jonathan Stryker