BR: Body Double (1984)

December 12, 2013 | By

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Film: Very Good/ BR Transfer: Excellent/ BR Extras: Very Good

Label: Twilight Time/ Region: All / Released: August 13, 2013

Genre: Mystery / Suspense

Synopsis: A two-bit actor becomes a pawn in a jealous husband’s elaborate murder scheme in this stylized riff on Hitchcock romance-thrillers.

Special Features:  Isolated Stereo Score Track / Four 2006 making-of featurettes: “The Seduction” + “The Set-Up” + “The Mystery” + “The Controversy” / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by Film Historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.




With Dario Argento having successfully spliced plot devices from a multitude of Alfred Hitchcock films in his clever homage Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005) it’s kind of unfair to carry on with the critical derision heaped upon Body Double, the nearly 30-year old Hitchcock mash-up which Brian De Palma describes as a “meditation on Vertigo.

Known as a Hitchcock appropriator (and by some, a thief), there’s no denying that within the plot globs that make up the tale of a struggling actor conned into becoming the perfect alibi for a vicious spousal killing, De Palma pulled off some extraordinary sequences – especially a lengthy mall chase where claustrophobe Jake (Craig Wasson) stalks wealthy socialite Gloria Revelle (Dallas’ Deborah Shelton) in competition with her soon-to-be killer, ‘the Indian.’

Not unlike Vertigo (1958), De Palma has Jake follow Revelle throughout the city, allowing for ballet of smooth camera movements set to Pino Donaggio’s rhapsodic score, with the cinematography often exploiting the bright sunlight to create razor-sharp images with sometimes explosive colours – not oversaturated, but robust, glossy, and slick like a magazine ad.

In tandem with the mall sequence is a beach scene where Jake watches Revelle as she stands by the railing of a modest apartment. The building’s stepped terraces recall late fifties / early sixties terrace designs, and allow De Palma to create another link to Hitchcock’s classic romance-thriller in which one man’s obsession is exploited by a crafty manipulative weasel through retro architecture.

Like Psycho (1960), the murder is shockingly brutal, yet in spite of having pushed screen violence further in his prior film, Scarface (1983), De Palma scaled back details to a handful of suggestive shots, leaving it up to the audience to fill in the gruesomeness of Gloria’s death by massive (and ridiculously phallic) drill bit.

When Jake realizes he was played for a fool, with the aide of porn queen Holly Body (Melanie Griffith) he attempts to piece together plot twists and loose ends, including the identity of the killer, and suspicions of his new best buddy / fellow struggling actor Sam (Gregg Henry).

The ending wraps up a little too neat, but there are strong scenes which gave Griffiths important opportunities to show off her subtle acting chops, elevating the actress from small roles to eventually leading lady. In the making-of featurettes, Griffiths and De Palma separately discuss the research and determination to avoid making Holly a cartoon cliché, and she’s easily the film’s most memorable character, being savvy, sharp-witted, and empathetic.

Wasson plays Jake as a man in constant puzzlement, and it works for a character trapped in an extended situation where reality evokes cinema, and his career between reality and absurd cinematic realities (namely a vampire in a teasing, ridiculous schlock film directed by Dennis Franz, who admits in one of the featurettes to aping De Palma, right down to the director’s green jacket). The film-within-a-film device is frequently exploited by De Palma – the opening sequence and De Palma’s frozen moment of fantasy near the end are brilliantly executed – and it’s that fuzzing of realities within a filmmaking backdrop that often inspires the director to write some of his best work (which, like it or not, includes Femme Fatale).

Twilight Time’s sourced a gorgeous transfer, and the uncompressed sound really brings out the beauty of Donaggio’s score, especially the loveliest main theme of his career which plays over the Main Titles sequence that precedes Jake’s cuckolding. Even the Frankie Goes to Hollywood music video / porn film-within-a-film sequence booms from the speakers, and adds to the movie’s delicious sleaze value.

Within De Palma’s C.V., this is still a frustrating work – the elliptical camera movements during Jake and Gloria’s epic kiss scene by the beach doesn’t work whatsoever, and Shelton’s dubbed faux French voice sounds awful – but as a guilty, stylishly rendered trash, it’s all good. Ported over are all of the featurettes from Sony’s 2006 DVD, leaving little doubt this Blu-ray will sell out fast. Kudos to Twilight Time for snatching up a title which Sony felt had little market appeal beyond the collector and De Palma fan bases.



© 2013 Mark R. Hasan


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