Release Date(s)1971 (June 2, 2020)
Studio(s)Devon Film/Copercines Cooperativa Cinematografica (Severin Films)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: C+
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: B
The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh—released in the US as Blade of the Ripper—brought together director Sergio Martino and actress Edwige Fenech for four giallo films, with The Case of the Scorpion’s Tale, All the Colors of the Dark, and Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key to follow. Released at the beginning of the giallo cycle, which officially kicked off with Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, it isn’t an altogether popular genre film these days, but critics and deep-seated fans find it to be an often overlooked gem.
Vienna is plagued by a series of murders against women, with the police unable to come up with any suspects. Arriving in town are the newly-wedded Neil and Julie Wardh (Alberto de Mendoza and Edwige Fenech)—he an important diplomat and her a rich heiress. Soon after their arrival, Julie runs into Jean (Ivan Rassimov), reminding her of her kinky past with him. Hounding her every move, he is somewhat pushed aside by Julie’s friend Carol (Conchita Airoldi) and Carol’s recently-arrived cousin George (George Hilton). He takes a liking to Julie, and though she is initially resistant despite feeling unsatisfied with her marriage, they begin having a love affair. Julie then becomes distressed when she starts receiving flowers and blackmail notes from an anonymous source. Even worse, the unapprehended killer threatens and attacks her.
Taking inspiration from Gaslight, Diablique, and the work of Hitchcock, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (the “h” added on the end to avoid a lawsuit from a woman who also had the last name Ward) is a highly entertaining film. Edwige Fenech is wonderful as the lead, a woman being driven to the edge of a madness. The film is also beautifully-shot, showing off gorgeous locations in around Spain and Austria. Though it winds up not being what most people think of as a giallo today, it examines female sexuality in a way that doesn’t feel overly exploitative, which is in part due to the film’s script by Ernesto Gastaldi (The Vampire and the Ballerina, The Long Hair of Death). Parts of the film are admittedly slow, including some of the expository and lovemaking scenes, but its final minutes, including its twist ending, make up for anything that it may lack.
The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh helped catapult Edwige Fenech into the role of an international sex symbol. Up to that point, she had mostly been making sex comedies, but appearances in giallo films defined her as one the genre’s most beautiful and captivating stars. Sergio Martino was fairly new to the director’s chair as well, and basically chose Fenech for his film after seeing her walking in the street from his upstairs window. Today, their work certainly has dated aspects, but the quality of the performances and the storytelling are top notch.
The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh comes to Blu-ray in the US for the first time from Severin Films. Touted to be sourced from a new 4K scan of the film’s internegative, it’s a problematic but not altogether unwatchable presentation. It’s soft and slightly cropped, but appears organic without any filtering applied. Grain levels are not finely attenuated, but detail in close-ups, on clothing, and on objects has potency, mostly in daytime scenes. The color palette, which is much warmer than previous releases, offers a nice variety of hues, particularly in the period clothing, but also in and around parts of the city. Black levels aren’t thoroughly deep as shadow detail suffers, but brightness and contrast levels never waver. Leftover damage is limited to edges of the frame appearing brighter than the rest of the presentation and an occasional scratch towards the center of the frame. Otherwise, it’s a stable presentation that looks decent in motion.
The audio is presented in either English or Italian 2.0 mono DTS-HD, with subtitles in English SDH for the English Audio and English for the Italian Audio. Both tracks feature their fair share of hiss and narrowness, but the English track is a tad less narrow in certain areas, specifically during the opening credits. The English dubbing is much more pronounced, as is the case with most foreign language films with English dubs. Neither track really outshines the other, but both offer adequate push for score and sound effects, even in a vintage mono environment.
The following extras are also included:
- Of Vice and Virtue (HD – 43:21)
- Cold as Ice (HD – 22:00)
- Vienna Vice (HD – 19:01)
- The No Shame Files with Actress Edwige Fenech (HD – 23:43)
- Introduction by George Hamilton (HD – 0:24)
- Italian Trailer (SD – 3:01)
- Audio Commentary with Kat Ellinger
In Of Vice and Virtue, director Sergio Martino talks about making films that would reach a wider audience outside of Europe, how The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh came into being, how certain things in his films wouldn’t work today, and the inspirations for the film. In Cold as Ice, screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi talks about ideas and themes within his work, as well as the work itself. In Vienna Vice, Italian genre historian Antonio Bruschini and actor George Hilton separately discuss the era that the film was made in, as well as the film itself, and its director. The No Shame Files features a slightly older interview with Edwige Fenech in which she discusses her career, specifically when she became involved with Sergio Martino. Kat Ellinger, author of All the Colors of Sergio Martino, gives a thoughtful analysis of the film in her audio commentary, but also delves into the careers of many of its key players. She insists that Sergio Martino was an underappreciated filmmaker before the Blu-ray format gave his films a new life, but also goes over the history of Sergio Martino’s and Edwige Fenech’s private and working relationship. Also included in the package is a bonus CD soundtrack featuring 31 tracks of Nora Orlandi’s score. There’s also a variety of other extras from overseas DVD and Blu-ray releases of the film that haven’t carried over, but the new material presented here is more than welcome.
The Severin Films release of The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh is a fine addition to the Blu-ray format. The A/V quality leaves something to be desired, and perhaps offering an alternate master from an overseas release might have been a good option, but the extras, including Kat Ellinger’s excellent audio commentary and the CD soundtrack, certainly give this release added value.
– Tim Salmons