Death Occurred Last Night [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Raro Video UK
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (25th March 2024).
The Film

Fed up with the lack of progress after a month in the search for his missing daughter from the local precincts, widowed office worker Amanzio Berzaghi (The Italian Job's Raf Vallone) goes over their heads to Commissario Duca Lamberti (Once Upon a Time in the West's Frank Wolff). Lamberti explains that there is very little they can do if a twenty-five year old woman leaves home of her own free will until Berzaghi reveals that his daughter Donatella (The Bod Squad's Gillian Bray) may be physically twenty-five but she has the mental age of a three-year-old; and, on top of that, she has nymphomaniac tendencies that require him to scare off men she attracts from their apartment balcony and lock her inside the apartment during the day when he is at work. He is adamantly opposed to committing her to a hospital and felt that he had a handle on the situation by telephoning her periodically at work to make sure she was okay until the day she did not answer as trained. The porter and the neighbors claimed to have not seen her leave the apartment and the lock was not forced, and the only item missing from the apartment was her favorite teddy bear. An investigation of the apartment suggests to Lamberti and his assistant Mascaranti (Lisa and the Devil's Gabriele Tinti) that her abductor must have been someone she recognized.

Lamberti is reluctant to reveal to Berzaghi the direction of his investigation will be Milan's sex trade given the hot prospect of a six-foot tall girl who only ever says "yes" to the attentions of men. With the help of his photojournalist wife (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage's Eva Renzi), Lamberti entraps supposedly reformed pimp Salvatore (Eye in the Labyrinth's Gigi Rizzi) into giving him a tour of Milan's houses of prostitution in search of Donatella or someone who might have seen her. Lamberti finds a lead in a house specializing in exotic tastes through self-described "negro prostitute" Herrero (So Sweet... So Perverse's Beryl Cunningham) who mentions that a client raved about the girl who he had seen a month before. The path, however, becomes increasingly convoluted with a string of false leads that have frustrated Lamberti accusing both Herrero and Salvatore of holding out on him before a poacher makes a grisly discovery in a morning bonfire. When an increasingly despairing Berzaghi makes the discovery of a telltale clue that suggests his daughter's abductors are closer than he once believed, he takes the law into his own hands, going behind Lamberti's back in order to ensure that he is first (and last) face they see.

Based on the novel "I milanesi ammazzano al sabato" by Giorgio Scerbanenco, Death Occurred Last Night is not really a giallo and also not quite a proto-poliziotteschi, the film genre with which the author would become identified with films such as Fernando Di Leo's Caliber 9 and The Italian Connection, as well as Romolo Guerrieri's Young, Violent, Dangerous; indeed, the film eschews much of the former genre's emphasis on visual style and the latter's on brutal action in favor of a strongly character-driven narrative that also typified seasoned jobbing director Duccio Tessari's slightly more conventional giallo efforts The Bloodstained Butterfly and Puzzle. Tessari's overall style is disarming with such dark subject matter treated through a lens of comic relief with bickering between Lamberti and Mascaranti over the latter's heavy-handedness and hippie haircut (the usually wooden Tinti actually does some entertaining non-verbal acting throughout), Salvatore set up as the butt of jokes from his entrapment onward, visual sight gags involving role-playing prostitutes – including a "student" who is revealed to actually be studying for high school exams between clients – and the somewhat absurd flashbacks of Berzaghi and his statuesque, glamorous, doll-like daughter made further risible by the jolting use of a spry pop music vocals penned by composer Gianni Ferrio and performed by Italian pop star Mina (who would also record the "Valentina" theme song for Ferrio's Death Walks at Midnight).

The only respite to this tonal dissonance during the first half are scenes between Lamberti and his wife, both workaholics who see the other's work as futile as his wife attempts to sum up war conflicts in single images but sees no point in exploring the motivations behind them while Lamberti pursues means of putting a stop to violence and exploitation on the local level at least. The latter half of the film disarms the viewer by gradually shifting the tone towards the more somber starting with a series of interviews with obstructive and outraged clients who defend their veneers of respectability contrasted with madams, pimps, and underage prostitutes who blithely explain the way the world works to Lamberti as if he were a naοf. Besides giving Berzhagi a sense of grim momentum – including some first person voiceover – the third act twists also surprise the viewer by giving a far more substantial role for the usually decorative presence of Cunningham than initially suspected along with real-life playboy Rizzi in a manner that subtly sets his otherwise low-life character apart from one essayed elsewhere in the film by Marco Mariani (Death Smiles at Murder). The film's downbeat denouement manages to simultaneously provide closure on a visceral level to the Death Wish-inclined viewer while ultimately despairing of any kind of meaningful solution to the mechanisms of sexual exploitation of the innocent. Another Scerbanenco novel featuring the recurring characters of Lamberti and Mascaranti had been adapted earlier by Fernando Di Leo as Naked Violence.


Although dubbed for English export, Death Occurred Last Night was not released theatrically in the U.K. or North America. In Italy, a DVD first turned up in 2005 retitled "I milanesi ammazzano al sabato" to hammer in the Scerbanenco connection featuring an old video master which was then cropped to 1.78:1 and upscaled for the equally unsatisfactory 2012 DVD before Raro Video's U.S. arm issued an English-friendly Blu-ray in 2014. As with the 2023 French Blu-ray and upcoming limited edition German Blu-ray, Raro Video's Radiance Films-curated U.K. Blu-ray utilizes the same HD master but with AVC encoding rather than the U.S. edition's VC-1 encode. The master was one of the better-looking ones that the company produced at the time, with some rich textures evident in clothing, wallpaper, and wood grain even in wider shots. Shadow detail could be better and the saturated reds of one of the more visually-striking prostitution visits could be less "hot" but Radiance has once again made a nice upgrade out of another older Raro title.


The film is viewable in identical separate English and Italian versions via the main menu, but these options only lock in the choice of English or Italian LPCM 1.0 mono tracks and the option of English HoH or translated English subtitle which cannot be toggled via remote. The credits remain in Italian regardless of the version option. Both tracks are reasonable clean with clear post-dubbed dialogue and flat sound effects, although it is difficult to tell if the additional "crunchiness" during Mina's boisterous vocal performances on the Italian track is an intentional effect that is less apparent on the English track or if Raro's technicians were overzealous in cleaning up the Italian track over the English. The HoH subtitles do include one error in referring to "Raphael" as "Raffaelo" as it would be heard on the Italian track.


The earlier video introduction by Fangoria's Chris Alexander (7:13) is carried over in which he addresses the difficulty of classifying the film as a giallo or poliziotteschi, distinguishing Ferrio's scoring choices from the more mood-appropriate atonal choices of the likes of Ennio Morricone, as well as noting the presence in the Italian/West German co-production of prolific producer Artur Brauner (Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace) whose credit of "screenplay collaborator" may refer to translating the dialogue for the German version of the film.

New to the disc is an audio essay by film historian Francesco Massaccesi (11:06) narrated by Howard S. Berger in which Massaccesi also notes the difficulty of genre classification, suggesting that the film is less of a traditional literary or filmic giallo – the latter were originally Italian translations of works by the likes of Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr illustrated with sensationalist covers that were the cinematic genre's visual inspiration – and more of a hardboiled noir, the "dirty side of the giallo" which explored the seamy side of the "ecnomic capital of Italy" Milan.

The disc also includes the English export trailer (2:39).


Raro Video's U.K. edition is a limited edition of three-thousand copies including a reversible sleeve featuring artwork based on original posters and a 12-page booklet featuring the essay "Death Occurred Many Times: The Thrillers of Duccio Tessari" by David Sodergren (the latter not supplied for review).


Neither a giallo or a proto-poliziotteschi, Death Occurred Last Night is nevertheless a disarming character-driven thriller that seems to make light of its dark themes but builds to despairing resolution.


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