Suppose it's 1972 and you're making a giallo. Sure, you've managed to secure the services of George Hilton, Fernando Rey, Luciana Paluzzi, Edouardo Fajardo and Fernando Rey; a formidable cast that should appeal to audiences in your target co-production markets of Spain and Italy. But is it enough – how many times have your audience seen Hilton do that same shifty suspect schtick or Strindberg play the ice-maiden already? What can you do to try to stand out in a crowded marketplace?
Well, if you're Tulio Demicheli the answer seemed to be to bring in some open heart surgery footage...
Would make for a good double bill with Night of the Bloody Apes?
It's a mondo-style attraction-repulsion device that makes or breaks what is otherwise be a pretty average giallo where all the right ingredients are present, but not quite mixed in the proper proportions.
It's like this officer: I was just cleaning it and it went off...
We open with a classic subjective-cameras scene. The crime is theft rather than murder, however – that comes later, with the weapon of choice unusually a pistol.
We're already getting ahead of ourselves, however, inasmuch as there is a considerable chunk of exposition to get through beforehand. Pay attention now:
The thing stolen was Dr Michele Azzini's letter accepting a job at a clinic in Milan. This clinic is the rival to the one where he and his fiancee Paola Lombardi (Strindberg) work. Paola was – and perhaps still is – in a relationship with another colleague, Dr Roberto Carli (Hilton). His wife Elena (Paluzzi) owns the clinic, which she inherited from her father and has built up with the assistance of her loyal manager – and, as we later learn, former lover – Luisi (Fajardo).
Reading too much into a tense exchange of gazes?
Elena also has a serious heart condition which needs operated on. While Roberto could perform the operation, it offers a way of exerting emotional pressure on Michele to stay at the clinic for the time being lest the offer of a 25 per cent share in the clinic not sway him...
The relative weight of these factors proves somewhat moot when Michele is murdered.
Inspector Nardi (Rey) is called in to investigate and while soon identifying the weapon – a Remington 9mm pistol, exactly like the one Elena owns, but which has now suspiciously gone missing – has considerably more trouble with motive and opportunity, with a surfeit of the former and a paucity of the latter. Everyone, it seems, has an alibi...
“I even massaged his prostate”
“Massages his prostate. Don't you know that's against the rules!” – Nardi's assistant tries to coax information out of a parrot which witnessed the crime.
Unfortunately his confusions are shared by the audience alike until late in the day, with the general sense of a narrative and character relationships that are too convoluted for their own good and of a failure to satisfactorily establish whether or not we have another point of identification with the narrative until decidedly late in the proceedings.
It is Elena who emerges as the woman in peril through an extended stalking sequence. The thing is that Elena's stalker turns out to have been one of Nardi's own men...
All the Colours of the Dark...
If, that is, it was a way of determining whether her condition was for real – it seems to be, since she's the one who then goes under the surgeon's rather than the slasher's blade, though the outcome may be the same – and/or of forcing the others to show their true colours, it was a decidedly risky one that doesn't quite convince, especially as things then play out...
While The Strange Vice of Signora Wardh used a similar device, it worked because we were with Edwige Fenech's character and had also been let in on enough of the conspiracy against her to know broadly where our loyalties lay; Strange Vice achieved a better balance between suspense and surprise where The Two Faces of Fear too often piles on one surprise after another.
Demichelli just over-eggs it: almost every little gesture and detail, every exchange of dialogue or looks amongst the central quartet is equally replete with potential meaning and thus equally meaningless, leading to too many things which go nowhere – a letter that may incriminate one suspect, an insurance policy that suggests a further motive for another – and a failure to satisfactorily engage the viewer in the process of playing detective for him or herself.
There are some gialli where you can watch them a second or third time and really appreciate the director's craft, the way he subtly directs or misdirects your attentions and presumptions – Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is perhaps the most obvious example, though Amadeo's Smile Before Death also comes to mind – but this is not one of them. Just as the those who take a psychoanalytic approach to each and every case need to be reminded a cigar is sometimes only a cigar, here Demicheli needs to be reminded that sometimes a closeup of a detail is only a close up of a detail.
Yet more stairwells to die for, even with the compositions somewhat off in the non-OAR presentation
It's more of a shame because when Dimicheli goes for the self-consciously stylish image – a defamiliarising shots of a stairwell here; some expressive use of colour there; a recurring theme of the need to read the signs – he gets it. Likewise, his failure is that of trying too hard rather than not hard enough.
It's all about reading the signs
On the plus side Rey's good-humoured, world-weary detective, who quit smoking six months previously and finds his and others' nicotine cravings to be a constant distraction, is an endearing creation. The other performances are effective, but never quite rise about the level of doing the same thing as we've seen elsewhere. Indeed, in the case of Hilton in particular this is to Two Faces of Fear's detriment because one tends to thereby recall other more consistently trashy yet engaging gialli like The Case of the Bloody Iris.
Franco Micalizzi's score is another asset and, being more in the giallo than the poliziotto vein, serves as a useful reminder of his versatility.