For Judge Daryl Loomis, nothing occurred last night.
Who did you sell her to?
In Italian cinema, two of the hottest genres of the late '60s and early '70s were the poliziotteschi, cop thrillers, and the gialli, those most lurid of crime movies which I've spent many hours sucking down. They're very specific styles of film, with very specific elements that a required to fit into the genre, unlike in America where a thriller can mean any number of different kinds of things. That's what makes Death Occurred Last Night such an anomaly. It features elements from both genres, but can't really be classified as either. But leave the cataloguing to the librarians, because I have a movie to review.
Facts of the Case
When a nymphomaniac with the mind of a child is kidnapped, police inspector Duca Lamberti (Frank Wolff, Once upon a Time in the West), convinced that she's been sold into prostitution, combs the criminal underworld looking for her. When he discovers that, while he was right, she has also been executed. Now, he must find the killers before her father (Raf Vallone, Decedenza), driven mad with grief, can exact his own personal vengeance.
While the idea of the girl with the mind of a three-year-old may make Death Occurred Last Night seem a little too prurient, it's really a fairly grounded crime movie. Sure, that little bit is pretty disgusting, but once her mental state is established, they don't really dwell on that side of it. In fact, the girl (Gillian Bray, The Bod Squad) is barely in the movie at all.
Instead, the story is split pretty much evenly between Lamberti's investigation and the father's growing insanity. Lamberti's side is standard cop fare, with Lamberti working the beat, talking to pimps, going to brothels, roughing up johns, stuff like that. To give him some sympathy, he brings one young prostitute, who gave him his only lead in the investigation, into his home to try to straighten her out. She doesn't like it, but it's better than the cathouse.
The father's side is where the gialli elements emerge. In focusing on his loneliness and grief, sympathy for him is a given, but as he starts to go mad, those feelings start to erode and, when he finally learns the truth (in an extended flashback that is very typical of the genre), it's rampage time and it's pretty tough to have much sympathy for a guy who is crushing people's faces into glass.
By straddling the line between the two, director Duccio Tessari (A Pistol for Ringo) is allowed to have the story as lurid as he pleases, while still maintaining a grounded cop story. Most in the police genre focus on things other than sex crimes, but that's what pretty much every giallo is about, so we get the best of both worlds.
Tessari doesn't inject a lot of style into the movie, but he puts in a solid journeyman effort. The story moves along smoothly and sensibly, which is a little surprising considering how much is actually going on in it. The violence, while relatively slim, is handled well; it's fairly brutal, but it makes sense in the context of the movie, so it feels inevitable. The only part of Death Occurred Last Night that verges into the weird is the musical score by Gianni Ferrio and, especially, the grating title track sung by Mina. Often, the music is completely inappropriate for the onscreen action; while that's going to put off some people, it's relatively common in Italian genre movies, and I tend to enjoy that kind of thing.
If nothing else, Death Occurred Last Night is a worthwhile oddity. Certainly not as stylish as the best of the gialli and certainly not as tight as the best of the poliziotteschi, the genres are combined in an interesting and satisfying way. It's hard to tell what kind of value it will carry in subsequent viewings, but at least as something I'd never heard of before, it's a pretty good time.
Death Occurred Last Night comes to Blu-ray from Raro Video in an average edition. The 1.75:1/1080p transfer looks reasonably good. The colors are a little soft, but that was very common for Italian cinema of the time, and there's a bit of damage to the print. The clarity is pretty strong, though, with some fine detail, though it's nothing you're going to show off to your friends. The sound fairs similarly with its simple two-channel PCM mix. There's no background noise to speak of, but there's no real dynamic range, either. Still, the dialog and that weird score are clear enough. The only extra beyond the trailer is an introduction to the film by Chris Alexander, which is nothing to write home about.
An unsung gem of Italian crime movies, Death Occurred Last Night will most definitely satisfy genre fans. Others might recoil at the humorless grimness of the movie, but hey, the stuff that Raro releases isn't really known for its mainstream appeal. This is one of those cinematic obscurities that makes wading through all the garbage worth it…sort of. Recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Raro Video
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