Without a Trace – Rediscovering ‘Death Occurred Last Night’ / ‘La Morte Risale a Ieri Sera’ (Italy 1970 – 98 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - October 12, 2014
Without a Trace – Rediscovering ‘Death Occurred Last Night’ / ‘La Morte Risale a Ieri Sera’ (Italy 1970 – 98 mins)

With a top European cast and a gripping storyline, the largely unknown Italian picture ‘Death Occurred Last Night’ is an engrossing crime drama as well as an excellent character study.

When his mentally retarded daughter goes missing, widower Amanzio Berzaghi (Raf Vallone) turns to Chief Inspector Duca Lamberti (Frank Wolff) for help in finding her. Although she is 25 years old, Donatella’s mental age is only 3, which is why she is kept locked in their apartment while her father is at work. Fearing that she has fallen into the hands of a notorious pimp, Inspector Lamberti and his partner Mascaranti (Gabriele Tinti) visit local brothels and known criminals in an effort to find her. When Donatella turns up dead, her grieving father turns vigilante and swears to find and kill those responsible.

Part giallo, part police procedural, ‘Death Occurred Last Night’ is a sadly forgotten film, but an excellent one that features one of the best casts for this type of genre picture.

The rugged and acclaimed Raf Vallone is wonderful here, giving a powerful performance as the distraught father. Vallone was a superb actor who made movies all over the world. Some of his best remembered roles are as Cardinal Quarenghi, in Otto Preminger’s ‘The Cardinal’ (’63), a mafioso in ‘The Italian Job (’69), and a priest who becomes Pope before being murdered by the mafia, in ‘The Godfather: Part III’ (’90). As the dogged inspector Lamberti, Frank Wolff is terrific as the cynical chief. Recognizable from such movies as ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ (’68) and ‘The Lickerish Quartet’ (’70), Wolff had long suffered from depression and sadly committed suicide the following year, aged just 43. As the tragic Donatella, Gillian Bray does very well in her few, often powerful scenes. Bray has only made a handful of movies, but one that I enjoyed (in a trashy sort of way) was the 1974 action-comedy ‘The Bod Squad’, where she was one of five western girls kidnapped by Chinese pirates, who then learn kung-fu while being forced to work in a brothel. Other support went to popular the Italian actor (and future husband of Laura Gemser) Gabriele Tinti, and Eva Renzi, who is very good as the Inspector’s supportive wife. Beryl Cunningham deserves special mention as Herrero, a hard-as-nails hooker aiding the inspector in his search.

Writer-Director Duccio Tessari began his career making Hercules and Goliath type pictures, before moving on to Spaghetti westerns and thrillers. Tessari followed this film with the excellent giallo ‘The Bloodstained Butterfly’ (’71) with Helmut Berger, and the more light-hearted adventure ‘Safari Express’ (’76), with Ursula Andress.

Well made and gripping throughout; ‘Death Occurred Last Night’ is one of those movies that holds up well to repeated viewings. It’s both suspenseful and disturbing, plainly yet expertly shot, without the need for flashy camera angles which populated many Italian genre pictures at the time. A slow burner for sure, but all the better for it.

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