La morte risale a ieri sera (1970)

La morte risale a ieri sera

I have a bit of a fascination with Frank Wolff. Ever since seeing his brilliant turns in Milano Calibro 9 and The Great Silence, he has rocketed to the top of my list to see more. When this Italian thriller with Wolffe in a leading roll popped up I jumped at the chance. La morte risale a ieri sera is known as Death Occurred Last Night in English.

Set in Milan, a 25 year old with the mind of the child disappears a couple of detectives attempt to relocate her, taking them deep into the dark world on prostitution rings. After some time and as hope is fading a body turns up, her distraught father, played by Amanzio Berzaghi, begins his own investigation and the detectives are racing to find the murderer, before her father does.

This is a slick Italian production that is pretty much entirely without action, there are two or three scuffles throughout leading to the climatic scene that sees Berzaghi confront his daughter’s murders. The film does include some of the lengthiest, but honestly entertaining, montages as Wolff and his partner Mascaranti (Gabriele Tinti) as the detectives tirelessly following leads and asking questions feature frequently. The montages are set of sometimes jaunty music and sometimes feature lightly humourous moments.

Wolff is mesmerising as the lead detective, Lamberti, playing much older than he was at the time. We spend a lot of time with him on the job, and most notably, after hours. A rare move for this type of movie is to have a glimpse of the lead character’s home life and we relax after a day on the job with Lamberti and his wife, played by Eva Renzi. These scenes were by far the highlight of the film as Wolff and Renzi muse and discuss their ideas and issues.

In something of a bizarre twist Wolff invites a beautiful sex worker involved in the investigation, played by Beryl Cunningham, to stay at their home in an effort to protect her. Cunningham’s seductive outfits provide little distraction to Wolff, and Renzi does not seem to be terribly phased by the display. Renzi’s character is a pillar of strength for Wolff’s detective and brings a welcome mature approach to dealing with Cunningham with emotional support. It’s a rare character for the time period and a powerful role for Eva Renzi to portray, which I am sure she would have strongly influenced.

Having spent a lot of time with Italian cop films recently it’s refreshing to find a film that isn’t a cash in, or an attempt to make a gritty property to sell in the States. This has a thoughtful and clever script, breezy pace, serious tone but with lighter moments and you can immerse yourself fully into the lead characters to get the most out of the film. The music pops and the imagery is not designed to shock. There is a small amount of nudity, but it does not fixate on it to get cinema-goers in as so many did at the time.

If there was one element I felt the film could do with out, it was the violent climax. Certainly, there is a need for the father’s self inflicted justice, however, the film seems to linger on the final act of violence a little too long, and then used it in the advertising campaign. This was 1970 and the eve of the more violent cop film.

Following some Sword and Sandal movies and fun western outings, like the Ringo films, director Duccio Tessari scored another terrific thriller the following year with The Bloodstained Butterfly. Tessari also wrote the screenplay with Biagio Proietti (The Killer Reserved Nine Seats) from a book by Giorgio Scerbanenco writer of the novel Milano Calibro 9.

Death occurred last night combines both the cop movie and vigilante traits but sits outside of the typical poliziotesschi mould. Instead it’s a (slightly flawed) police procedural with a collection of fantastic performances. There are some unique ideas, adult themes and fun moments throughout. I never lost interest and cared about those involved in the dark climax. I’m surprised this isn’t on too many recommendation lists, but it’s on mine.

As with nearly all films starring the late Frank Wolff, he is rarely depicted on the poster art. Most to Death Occurred Last Night’s are somewhat routine, however, the scenes captured are not really in the movie and more of a flavour of what to expect.

Radiance put out a fantastic blu ray that any collector is going to want to have. A limited edition print with some nice extras including essays, and new subtitles make this the best option for the film.

It’s a little cheaper on Amazon here (affiliate link).


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