Four Flies On Grey Velvet (1971)

JUNE 28, 2009


Even though I watch them all out of order, I never really grow tired of seeing Argento’s Giallo films. They’re all pretty much the same movie (artist of some sort, a murder, a helpful cop/PI, an ending that usually comes out of nowhere and is based on information we were never given), and obviously Argento was fine-tuning his craft until Deep Red, was pretty perfect until the late 80s or so, and then began to decline, but I walk away from just about all of them with equal satisfaction. So even though Four Flies On Grey Velvet (Italian: 4 Mosche Di Velluto Grigio) was one of his first, when he was still a bit sloppy, it’s as equally interesting to watch as say, Tenebrae, which is damn near perfect and was one of the first I watched, before I began to notice all the similarities (though I did point out that it was “similar to Deep Red”, natch).

This one’s a bit... loose, I guess I would say, compared to the others. Maybe the script just jumped around a lot, or maybe Argento was experimenting with editing. Either way, there are a number of scenes that seem to serve no purpose. Like when they cut away from a scene to show a woman yelling about getting the wrong mail. Her and her mail ultimately serve no function in the narrative, so why he would so quickly cut to her is beyond me. Also, the whole movie revolves around our hero” accidentally killing a guy, but it turns out that the guy isn’t really dead. This would usually be revealed via a line of dialogue from another character (like “Nice job faking your death...” and then the camera would reveal the non-dead guy with a shit-eating grin on his face). Here, we watch the guy eat dinner, make a phone call, walk around, and then finally meet up with someone else and explain why he isn’t really dead. I actually rewound the entire section of the film thinking I had missed something, because it was so oddly “revealed”.

Another odd thing, but one I kind of liked, is that the hero is a fucking douchebag. Not only does he cheat on his wife (with her cousin!) moments after refusing to join her on a trip, but he also seems to think everyone in his life should deal with him being a murderer rather than complain that it may bring them harm. He even treats the killing as something of an inconvenience; he repeatedly says “I killed a man” with the same tone of voice one would use to admit to scratching a car door in the parking lot. He also considers the flimsiest “evidence” in history (even for a Giallo) rock solid enough to start slapping the killer (a woman) around. Our hero!

Now to be fair, there might be more evidence. Unlike most Italian films’ US releases, no one bothered to translate any of the notes or newspaper articles that the characters look at before looking alarmed. As I do not speak Italian (though I have level 1 for Rosetta Stone!), I don’t know what any of these things are even referring to, let alone specifics. And given the amount of time spent in the movie on things that don’t matter, for all I know the newspapers are merely informing folks of the latest stock reports.

The movie has a “kill the killer and instantly cut to credits” ending though, so all is forgiven. Also, the little creepy puppet thing that the killer uses to hide behind (James Wan and Leigh Whannell have clearly seen the film) is awesome, I wish they had used it more in the movie. I also hope that they didn't destroy the only one they had for the trailer (it's damn upsetting to see it smashed up so badly in the spot - it's not in the film as far as I can recall).

A new DVD of this film has been asked about for years (I even asked Argento myself, when I interviewed him for Mother of Tears’ DVD release - total nerd boast post), so everyone owes Mya Communication (who?) a big sloppy kiss for putting one out, completely remastered and restored with a few seconds’ of material that was mysteriously cut from the US release. All of it occurs during the killer’s big explanation scene at the end of the film, and it’s still in Italian (even if you pick the English dub), so it’s easy to spot. The only other extras are trailers and the US version of the opening/end credits. It would have been nice to have Argento’s thoughts on the film finally seeing a proper release and also an explanation for those cuts (the theatrical cut’s version would make the killer’s motive even more baffling), but oh well. The transfer is top notch, so it’s definitely worth upgrading whatever shitty bootleg you had before.

What say you?

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  1. I'm glad that Four Flies finally has an official release, but unfortunately it seems the DVD has a number of problems. Rather than detail them myself, I'll post a link about them below. Perhaps the worst of them is the audio, which has a much lower pitch than it should. I can even attest to this myself, having admittedly watched a couple "shitty bootlegs" via download myself before buying the DVD. You have to cut me some slack for that, since at the time I figured this film would never see the light of day. Anyway, one thing that is nice about it is how great the image looks. While not perfect, it sure is refreshing compared to the horribly fuzzy, cropped, dark transfer I'm used to.

    Ahem. I'll post that link now. You'll have to scroll down to "DVD Presentation" to get the gist of it.

  2. maybe the "shitty bootlegs" have a higher pitch than they were supposed? haha

  3. I have yet to check this one out, because -- as you mentioned -- Argento's giallo films are all pretty much the same. But I did like "Bird..." and I love "Deep Red" so maybe I'll make the effort to see this one, now.

  4. ive never seen this movie. which stinks. ill have to see it now. i almost bought it and sent it to you though since you had such a hard time getting it.

  5. I saw this a year ago at the Egyptian playing with Bird, and I actually liked this better than the dryer Bird with the Crystal Plumage just because it was so wacky. It felt more like a movie that would play well at the Grindhouse fest. You got a sweet pre Goblin era 70's rock beat score, a protagonist that looks like that guy in the Strokes, a bum character named God, a gay detective, sleazy bathtub scenes and even a random scene in a casket shop floor room just for the hell of it. And that's just the stuff I can remember off the top of my head.

    Nice to see it on DVD.


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