Fans of Steve Martin, Woody Allen and Dario Argento all have one thing in common. They seem to spend a lot of their time wondering just when their favourites will return to the top form of their earlier efforts. Steve Martin has occasionally almost made audiences forget about the awful Bringing Down The House (okay, okay, I quite enjoyed that one, so sue me), Woody Allen has received apparently well-deserved praise for Midnight In Paris (which I have queued up and ready to watch at some point in the next few weeks) and Dario Argento has . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . well, let's be honest now, he's not really offered his loyal fans anything promising for quite some time. Or am I forgetting something major? If you could enjoy The Card Player, but not love it, then you're on a par with myself. I think his last excellent movie, from the few recent efforts I have seen, was Sleepless but even that one didn't please all of his fans. Not by a long shot.
Despite what some will tell you, not every earlier Argento movie was/is a bona fide classic. He certainly did his best work before the change of the century but giallo fans who have more than a passing knowledge of the subgenre will be able to provide you with a list of names of directors they feel have created a body of work superior to the Argento selection. That's not to take anything away from the man, it's just that perspective is needed when viewing and reviewing his work. I still love many of his movies and I still feel that his better films - Deep Red, Suspiria, Tenebrae, Opera etc - rank up there with the best that the genre has to offer. But that still doesn't mean that there aren't people who can do better.
Four Flies On Grey Velvet is a perfect example of the best of Argento mixed in with a few negatives.
The story, with a screenplay by Argento based on the story that he wrote with Luigi Cozzi and Mario Foglietti, is twisted and interesting enough - a young man (Roberto, played by Michael Brandon) confronts someone that he believes has been stalking him for a few days, a scuffle ensues and then the "stalker" is accidentally killed. This whole incident has been photographed and the photographer now blackmails Roberto and becomes more and more menacing, also causing some more deaths. Things build to a tense and revelatory finale.
The direction showcases fluid and stylish camerawork that would become, arguably, Argento's main trademark throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s with some amusing camera shots from such strange positions as the inside of a guitar, etc. There are also some enjoyable set-pieces, though nothing really on a par with his best work (with the exception of the very last moments of the film).
The acting is okay. Brandon does what is required, as do the likes of Mimsy Farmer, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Bud Spencer and the other cast members. But okay isn't good enough when the movie is full of too many moments that highlight the weaknesses in between the strengths. The script isn't all that great and a bit of editing could have really helped this whole film become a much more enjoyable, more streamlined thriller/horror. Just when you think things are getting better something comes along to undermine the tension, be it poor character choices or just banal dialogue exchanges.
I recommend this movie, especially to fans of Argento (of course), but it's not the best example of a movie of this type. It's not even in the top 5 Argento movies of this type, in my opinion. Nonetheless, this is a good film with an abundance of style and ingenuity. And some musical input from Ennio Morricone.