“Billy Wilder does EuroHorror!”
Well it certainly feels like it, at least for the first 75 minutes of this, and now you can decide if you agree with me as Eureka brings this one out in a (on the whole) sparking Blu-ray transfer.
FEDORA starts with a woman throwing herself under a train. Is it for real or a movie? The (deliberate) ambiguity continues as we cut to a TV presenter and then we realise she’s not talking about the clip we have seen, but about the death contained within it. Great and long-lived actress Fedora (one name - like Garbo or Karloff) is no more, and she has a funeral like VALENTINO in Ken Russell’s film of the same name made a year previously to show just how adored she was.
One of the many to attend the funeral is down on his luck independent movie producer Barry ‘Dutch’ Detweiler (William Holden), who then proceeds to tell us, in a voiceover reminiscent of the way in which Wilder’s own SUNSET BOULEVARD opens, how two weeks previously he had travelled to Corfu to try and get the reclusive movie star to appear in a new film.
It’s there that the EuroHorror feel kicks in, with Fedora (Marthe Keller) seemingly being kept prisoner in an isolated mansion by the kind of people usually seen in the more bonkers early 1970s Italian horrors. Fedora doesn’t even appear to be sane, and may have been the subject of bizarre ‘youth enhancing experiments’ performed by the disgraced Doctor Vando (Jose Ferrer, having a lot more fun here than in ZOLTAN HOUND OF DRACULA which he made at about the same time).
Miklos Rozsa’s score channels some serious James Bernard as the plot gets stranger and takes a right turn into LES YEUX SANS VISAGE territory. I’ll leave the rest of FEDORA for you to discover, suffice to say that I don’t doubt for a moment that Billy Wilder (with co-writer I A L Diamond) was aiming for a commentary on the Hollywood of the 1970s compared with the 1940s while at the same time asking the question as to what a ‘star’ really is - a person or an elaborate construct that actually destroys lives.
What he ended up with is something a little more lurid and unexpectedly entertaining for fans of 1970s European horror films and FEDORA turned out to be an unexpected delight that was no doubt rather ahead of its time in having actors like Michael York and Henry Fonda play themselves.
Eureka’s Blu-ray transfer is excellent on the whole, and one of the extras shows you how the film was restored. You also get deleted scenes and a booklet featuring two new essays on the film as well as some archival images and text.
Eureka are releasing Billy Wilder's FEDORA on a dual format DVD and Blu-ray set on Monday 26th September 2016