Archive for March 18, 2020

I ask you, is THIS the face of a killer?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on March 18, 2020 by dcairns

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LA MORTE RISALE A IERA SERA (DEATH OCCURRED LAST NIGHT) is a strange and unsavory crime thriller that seems midway between the genres of gialli (sex, murder, mystery) and poliziotteschi (cops, detection, procedural).

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Raf Vallone is a lower-middle-class working stiff with a bum knee whose daughter is kidnapped. She’s a very tall girl (why does the script insist on this? No idea) with a mental age of three. Because she has an innocent tendency to promiscuity, Vallone keeps her shut in the apartment while he’s at work. One day she’s gone.

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Detectives Frank Wolff and Gabriele Tinti take the case — the girl has vanished into Milan’s brothels, where her passive, childlike nature would seem to make her an object of fantasy for the clientele. This is all very, very uncomfortable stuff, and the movie is not above regarding Gillian Bray’s character with a lecherous eye.

Things are already dark and they just get darker. Shadowplayer Andre Ferreira identifies a theme in director Duccio Tessari‘s giallo-type films, where the victims are unusually sympathetic. Most gialli make the murders easier to enjoy without guilt by making the victims fairly unappealing except sexually, and the detectives/investigators are often grumpy, low-charisma types (Cameron Mitchell’s Inspector Morlacchi in BLOOD AND BLACK LACE is both prototype and paragon here).

So Vallone is treated with respect by the movie and by Wolff’s character, who gains our respect for his attitude. Then things unfold in an odd and gradual way. Wolff and Tinti plunge into the sexual underworld, visiting whorehouses undercover as johns with the state paying the bills. Lots of montages with the inexplicably jaunty pop soundtrack by Gianni Ferrio bouncing away as if this was all a big romp. Some of the cutting gets quite M-like.

Then the victim is found dead and half-burned, and then Vallone gets a clue which he keeps to himself so he can get revenge. It all bends genre norms out of shape, not always in the best of ways, but it’s interesting. I’d never seen a man killed with a washing machine, for instance.

Two things are typically poliziotteschi: (1) there’s widespread anomie with a bunch of people who know stuff about this unbelievably heinous crime who don’t share it with the cops because society is rotten and nobody cares and (2) there’s a somewhat fascistic DIRTY HARRY attitude that the cops will sometimes need to break rules and noses in order to get the job done, damnit.

As a procedural, the film is daft. We don’t see our heroes fucking their way through the sex industry, which seems to be threatened at first: they just use their undercover guises to open doors. But there’s a hilarious bit where a witness is made to draw a suspect, even though he can’t draw. He produces a smiley face with no upper head, and then this is passed on to a police artist to be transformed into a better drawing, with no contact whatsoever between witness and sketcher. The result is as you might predict, ludicrous, but all the later witnesses agree that it captures the essence of the guilty party.

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You have now.

There are some nice human touches, though: Wolff plays the whole thing with sinus trouble, sticking a decongestant stick up a nostril at inopportune moments. Donald Pleasence would surely nod his approval.