Deep Red aka Profondo rosso (1975)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Starring: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia, Macha Méril, Eros Pagni, Giuliana Calandra, Piero Mazzinghi, Glauco Mauri, Clara Calamai
Full Version (126 m) (out of 4)
English/International Version (105 m) 1/2 (out of 4)
Chucky does not want to play.
Deep Red (Profondo rosso) is considered in some circles to be Dario Argento’s masterpiece. I don’t agree – I think Suspiria takes that title – but the film is certainly one of the director’s stronger works. It’s a very good giallo, and unlike some of Argento’s other output, it’s relatively coherent in terms of story. Naturally, since we’re talking Argento, I use the term “coherence” a little loosely, but a film like Deep Red isn’t really about plot anyway, it’s about setting a mood. Deep Red shows Argento following in the footsteps of Hitchcock (suspense, psychological analysis of the killer, mother issues, multiple shots establishing the audience as voyeur) and Mario Bava (vivid colors, striking architecture, killer POV shots, raincoat+gloves combo). Along with some meticulously staged murder sequences, Deep Red is filled with beautiful visuals, wide-angles, and fluid camera shots. The only thing that’s off here is the slow pacing near the middle and the sometimes questionable use of prog score (which I’ll get to in a bit).
Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) is an English jazz pianist in Rome who witnesses the murder of a psychic (Macha Méril) who had earlier picked up a killer’s murderous thoughts. This leads him on a trail of clues along with the help of local journalist Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi) and Professor Giordani (Glauco Mauri). Some of these clues involve a child’s nursery rhyme, an abandoned house, and a book of local horror tales. The problem is, everytime Marcus gets close to an answer, the killer dispatches an important witness and makes off with the evidence. In a sense, Marcus’ investigation is extremely frustrating – like the psychic picking up leftover vibrations, he can only uncover bits and pieces of the killer’s past crimes but not the identity of the killer himself. Eventually, a discovery of a child’s drawing in a grade school library kick-starts the final revelations.
She just watched Dracula 3D.
If there was ever a question whether Dario Argento had talent, Deep Red should settle it. The camera appears ceaselessly in motion, with wide depth of field (seeing this film in widescreen is imperative); scenes are packed with visual beauty (and check out the Edward Hopper reference!); the use of reflections are ever present as a motif. Foreshadowing is clever (one scene set in a coffee shop filled with steam portends a murder invoving hot water; a reference to piano playing being a psychological substitute for “bashing my father’s teeth in” is made literal in the following murder sequence). In many scenes the camera pulls back from the action – witness Marcus conversing with his drunken friend Carlo (Gabriele Lavia) with the camera’s eye keeping a substantial distance, as if we are eavesdropping. Characters are constantly under surveillance by the camera from different angles – a substitute for the killer’s point of view (or the audience’s). This inspires a feeling of paranoia, as the viewer gets a sense that everyone in the movie is in danger from an unseen force.
Pacing in Deep Red could be a bit better in some spots. The scenes in the “haunted house” tend to drag on for too long right about when the movie should be picking up speed. And while I loved the prog soundtrack from Goblin, there are a few areas where Argento could have toned them down a bit. Nonetheless, there’s some iconic stuff here (witness the creepy walking doll, the closeup shot of a knife in motion, the murder-by-hatchet). There’s classic giallo tropes here too – the killer wears a hat, coat, and gloves; the protagonist has witnessed an important clue but can’t figure it out (see Argento’s earlier film The Bird With the Crystal Plumage). Also, like Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet, there’s a twisted thrill involving the killer’s comeuppance not by the main character but an act of God (aka the director, restoring balance).
Finally, it’s hard to miss Argento’s progressivism and his upending of gender roles. For example, just as in Four Flies on Grey Velvet, he has a main character revealed as homosexual but it is innocuous – our protagonist pays it no mind. Hemmings’ character Marcus Daly is practically emasculated in the presence of Daria Nicolodi’s character Gianna Brezzi, who picks him up and even beats him in arm wrestling! (And notice how, because of a problem with the car seat, Hemmings is reduced in size sitting next to her). This switching of genders, by the way, is another important harbinger of the reveals at the climax.
“Wow, that’s rather disturbing. But let’s not investigate this child and instead tuck this away for 30 years.”
I wasn’t a big fan of Profondo rosso at first but find myself liking it more and more with each subsequent viewing. Casting of Hemmings isn’t by accident; this is a basic reworking of Antonioni’s Blow Up with him in a similar role, filtered through Argento’s strange and surreal sensibilities. The interesting score from Goblin ranks among their most popular and I think it’s great stuff, if slightly overused. Suffice it to say, giallo afficionados should consider Deep Red mandatory viewing.
Different cuts of Deep Red / Profondo rosso lie all over the place. I like the 105 minute version the best, since it moves at a much better pace than the 126 minute version. The 105 minute version, which can currently be seen on Netflix streaming (at least until 2-August-2012), removes certain romantic subplots and occasional comedy bits. These removed scenes can be seen in the full length director’s cut on DVD from Blue Underground. While I own this release, and like it, the scenes of romance between Hemmings and Nicolodi merely distract, the comedy doesn’t work, and other scenes of Hemmings playing the piano in music sessions just stretch things out too far for this kind of thriller. I don’t have the Blu-ray yet (also from Blue Underground), but it does feature two versions of the film – one is the uncensored English version (105 m) and the other is the full length Director’s cut in Italian language (126 m). By the way, the uncensored English version is also available separately on DVD. If you don’t have a Blu-ray player, then you should probably get this one.
– Bill Gordon