Director: Duccio Tessari
Screenplay: Biagio Proietti and Duccio Tessari
Starring: Frank Wolff, Raf Vallone, Gabriele Tinti, Eva Renzi, Gillian Bray, Gigi Rizzi, Beryl Cunningham
Country: Italy
Running time: 97 min
Year: 1970
BBFC certificate: 15

The Italian city of fashion, Milan, has appeared in a large number of films, many classics including Rocco and His Brothers, La Notte, and Teorema amongst numerous others. Many genre films have also been set in the city, including Umberto Lenzi’s Gang War in Milan and Almost Human and Corrado Farina’s Baba Yaga. It’s a city that inspires and is often a character in itself.

Death Occurred Last Night showcases the city as a character from the outset, as the credits play over a tram journey through the streets of Milan, and there are numerous appearances of the cityscape throughout. The film, based on a novel by Giorgio Scerbanenco and directed by Duccio Tessari (perhaps best known for his films The Bloodstained Butterfly and Spaghetti Westerns A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo), throws us straight into a mystery. Amanzio Berzaghi (Vallone) is at a police station pleading with officers to find his daughter, Donatella, who has a learning disability and has been missing for a month.

The police, led by the very likeable Detective Duca Lamberti (Wolff playing a character who appeared in a noir series of novels by author Scerbanenco), delve into the darker, sleazier side of Milan to try to find her. It’s not really a spoiler (check out the title and the description on the website of Radiance Films, who are distributing the film in the UK), to reveal that the police do find Donatella, but not alive. Her father vows to track down her killer.

Death Occurred Last Night is a difficult film to place; for the most part it’s a police procedural and, had the film been made outside of Italy, that may be how the description ends. But this is an Italian production, which automatically brings to mind the murder mystery Giallos and poliziotteschi crime films. You can see elements of both in the movie but it doesn’t fit in either genre, and I found it to be more of a straight police procedural for the most part, going through, in an almost methodical way, the search for Donatella.

Once her body is found, shades of the revenge film can be felt and the movie, sleazy throughout, becomes mightily grim as the running time runs to its brutal finale. Donatella, although dead by the time the film starts, makes her presence felt throughout, through a series of flashbacks that first introduce us to her relationship with her father, before filling in the background to what happened to her as the film builds to its conclusion.

Ultimately this is a character study – in many senses as we get to know a wealth of the characters, their motivations and how they link in to the mystery, but mainly of the father, his search for his daughter (which brings to mind Hardcore, which starred George C. Scott, a point made in one of the extras) and his drive for revenge after her body is found. It’s a slow burner and one which requires a little bit of patience to see how the mystery will unfold.

The colour palette is often cold and harsh, but the cinematography brings the scenes to life with some interesting camera angles at times. The score, by Gianno Ferrio, is a strange beast – it never really feels like it belongs to the film, too jovial and cheery for the material. It’s a very odd one. On its own, the score would be fine, but it took me out of the drama too often and I found it to be very jarring.

Death Occurred Last Night is a gripping police procedural in which I found much to enjoy (the city landscape, the acting, the way the story unfolds both in the present day and through the flashbacks) yet it never quite reaches the levels it should. There’s plenty to admire as the mystery unfolds and the ending is shocking and memorable, but that score really does jar and it never really stands out as a great in any of the genres it bridges.


Death Occurred Last Night is released in the UK on the Raro Video label by Radiance Films on 29 January 2024. The transfer is strong, natural looking and with strong colours (well, as strong as the predominantly cold colour scheme allows). The English and Italian audio are both included and I had no issues with either.


High Definition digital transfer from the original camera negative

Uncompressed mono PCM audio

Audio essay by Francesco Massaccesi on the importance of Milan in Italian noirs of the period as well as Scerbanenco’s character Duca Lamberti inside and outside his cinematic iterations

Archival interview with Chris Alexander 

Original trailer

Reversible sleeve featuring artwork based on original posters

New and improved English subtitle translation for Italian audio and English SDH for English audio

Limited edition booklet by David Sodergren

Limited edition of 3000 copies presented in full-height Scanavo packaging

The 11-minute audio essay by Francesco Massaccesi (narrated by Howard S. Berger) looks at the city of Milan and its importance, particularly in Italian noirs. It also highlights the period in which the film was made and how that inspired the films of the time. It focuses on other films featuring themes of learning disabilities before delving into Death Occurred Last Night itself; the cold colour tones of the film, and how it’s difficult to pick a genre for the film – as I outlined earlier, it bridges several. It’s an interesting piece.

Fangoria’s former editor Chris Alexander provides a seven minute archival introduction, which is typically well informed. He talks about what made Tessari interesting as a filmmaker, the similarities of the film to the US film Hardcore, and gives a little bit of background to Giallo films. He talks about the hard, edgy and dirty feeling of the film, the difficulties to get a copy of the film in North America (before the original Raro Video release that this piece featured on) and the music. On the latter element, he talks about how he rejected the score on first viewing but on future viewings he embraced it. I had similar feelings about the score on the first viewing, so will be interested to see if my take changes with future watches. I’ve enjoyed the Alexander pieces on Raro Video releases I’ve watched so far, and this is no different. It’s a good listen.

The three minute trailer is from an American release of the film.

I wasn’t provided with the booklet but previous UK Raro Video releases have had fine ones, as have the rest of the Radiance releases, so I have no doubt this will be similar.

Radiance Films are bringing some welcome Blu-ray debuts to the UK, both directly, and through their distribution of labels like Raro Video. Death Occurred Last Night is the latest of these and it packs a strong audio and visual presentation, together with some brief but insightful extras. Whilst I found Death Occurred Last Night to be gripping (I was intrigued to see the mystery play out to its conclusion) it’s a flawed film, but certainly an interesting one.


Death Occurred Last Night – Raro Video
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Passionate about film, from the silents to the present day and everything in between, particularly 80s blockbusters, cult movies and Asian cinema.

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