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April 17, 2014

Death Occurred Last Night


La morte risale a ieri sera
Ducio Tessari - 1970
Raro Video BD Region A

It was future screenplay writer Ric Menelllo who clued me in on Ducio Tessari. We saw Tessari's one foray into Hollywood filmmaking, Three Tough Guys, starring Fred Williamson, Isaac Hayes and Lino Ventura. On my own, I saw the Alain Delon crime thriller Tony Arzenta, released in the U.S. under the title of No Way Out. Tessari's most familiar work is as one of the writers for A Fistful of Dollars. Death Occurred Last Night has none of the exuberance of Three Tough Guys, nor is it an exercise in style like Tony Arzenta, but Tessari makes some interesting choices here.

Raf Vallone is a panicked father whose daughter has disappeared. The daughter, Donatella, is twenty-five, but is described as "mentally deficient". Vallone is seen in a series of full shots, some from a pronounced distance, that emphasize his isolation and sense of smallness in trying to find the truth about his daughter. The film takes place in Milan, and Tessari often uses shots where the scale of the city, the tall apartments, office buildings and even a stadium dwarf the characters. Police captain Frank Wolff reminds Vallone that his daughter is just one of many missing young women, and Tessari creates a visual motif to illustrate a sense of personal anguish in an indifferent environment.

death occurred last night.jpg

There is also a very unusual scene where Wolff and his wife, played by Eva Renzi, have alternating monologues. The wife has just published a book, it's suggested that it is pictorial, documenting the violent state of the world. It takes a little while to realize that the two are not having a dialogue, but are each commenting on the kind of void one feels after accomplishing something, whether it it solving a case, or getting a book published. It's not every genre movie that gives room for the characters to have a little existential crisis of justifying their lives.

Even though the film begins with Raf Vallone confronting the police, the narrative mostly follows cops Woff and Gabriele Tinti who persuade a former pimp to help them seek out Donatella. I was a bit thrown off when Wolff is seen with a syringe, and medically treats Vallone, until I learned that the source novel is one of several books about physician turned detective Duca Lamberti. The novel's author, Giorgio Scerbanenco, lived in Milan, where all of his books take place. The source novel's English language title is "The Milanese Kill on Saturday".

A couple more visual bits that I liked: a shot of Frank Wolff handing out cash to a couple of madams at one of several "houses" visited, while in the background, behind frosted glass, we can see one of the girls undressing. Also a shot with the camera tilted up at a staircase where several floors above, several oranges fall to the floor, dropped by one of Vallone's startled neighbors.

Chris Alexander, of Fangoria magazine, provides a video introduction, as well as an overview in the booklet to Death Occurred Last Night that in retrospect tries too hard to position the film within the dominant Italian genre films of the time. The problem is that this approach brings certain expectations for the viewer. There is also some discussion of the film score by Gianni Ferrio, that some critics have cited as inappropriate. I had no problem with the music, which would seem to coincide with Tessari's overall aim which would be to go against the grain of familiar genre conventions.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 17, 2014 08:17 AM