Duccio Tessari rose through the ranks writing (historical then fantastical) peplums but really earned his spurs with an uncredited scripting contribution to Sergio Leone’s epochal A Fistful Of Dollars (1964) and his own directorial career took off in earnest the following year with a brace of Spaghetti Westerns, A Pistol For Ringo and The Return Of Ringo (the films which established Giuliano Gemma as a box office draw in Italy.) Tessari continued to direct Spagwests as late as 1969’s Alive Or Preferably Dead (another Gemma vehicle) and 1971’s Don’t Turn The Other Cheek but by 1970 had already contributed his first offering in the genre that was supplanting them in the hearts of Italian movie goers… the giallo.
Death Occurred Last Night boasts great performances from Raf Vallone as a desperate dad searching for his mentally handicapped daughter and Frank Wolff (himself a Spagwest veteran) as a maverick cop who throws away the rule book to identify the white slavers who abused then disposed of her (“Spoiler”? I think the film’s title was a bit of a give-away, there!) Throughout this giallo / polizioteschi hybrid Tessari is significantly less interested in the details of violent death (which clearly bewitch such contemporaries as Argento, Fulci and Martino) than he is in the obssessional pursuit of vendetta, the privileging of natural justice over the ineffectual pretensions of legal process and the macho imperative: “A man’s gotta do…” Spaghetti Western ways clearly die hard in the filmography of Duccio Tessari.
The giallo convention by which a loner amateur sleuth is at odds with law enforcement, clearly derived from Spaghetti Western antecedents, is taken to its logical and brutal extreme in 1971’s The Bloodstained Butterfly aka The Bloody Butterfly (“Una Farfalla Con Le Ali Insanguinate”.) Nubile French student Francoise (beguiling Jane Birkin lookey-likey Carol Andre) is stabbed to death during a torrential downpour in a public park. An abundance of eye witness testimony (including that from cameoing director Tessari, sporting trade mark chrysanthemum) leads to the rapid arrest of one Alessandro Marchi (Giancarlo Sbragia), a well-known TV sports reporter (we see him interviewing the late Lazio and Italy striker Giorgio Chinaglia) and ageing, toupee-totin’ lothario.
The investigations of Inspector Berardi (giallo and spaghetti western veteran Silvano Tranquilli) and the courtroom drama of Marchi’s trial take up much of this picture’s running time (and pretty involving stuff it is) culminating in the latter’s conviction (just imagine the impact if Frank Bough had been caught up in cocaine-fuelled sado-masochistic shenanigans… oh, hang on…) His wife Maria (Ida Galli / “Evelyn Stewart”) and lawyer Giulio (Gunther Stoll) are quite happy with this outcome as it leaves them free to pursue their long-running, clandestine affair.
While Marchi’s banged up in jail, however, two more women are bumped off by a knife attacker in that very park. Marchi is released, only to be confronted by intense, alienated concert pianist Giorgio (Helmut Berger) who has spent most of his scenes so far flashing back to and angsting over his relationship with the murdered Francosie…
Throughout and atypically for the giallo, Tessari has been more concerned with forensic and legal procedures than with detailing the delivery of mortal wounds. Even when such civilised niceties have been set aside, Tessari abstains from giallo clichés, choreographing his climactic corrida in the best Spagwest tradition, invoking populist frustration at the perceived inefficiency and leniency of the legal system, while leaving nobody in any doubt as to the disastrous consequences of taking the law into your own hands. Berger’s portrayal of a character who goes so far down that road as to lose all sense of moral perspective, is sometimes criticised for itself going way over the top, but personally I find it preferable to the phoned-in lead performances that mar so many gailli.
Special mention must also be made of Ganni Ferrio’s score, which jazz-funks up Tchaikovsky in a manner pleasantly reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s work on Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966.)
Arrow’s 4K restoration of The Bloodstained Butterfly looks and sounds every bit as spanky as you’d expect. It’s longer than any version you’ve probably seen, too, reinstating Tessari’s opening establishment of his dramatis personae, generally jettisoned in previous video and DVD editions in favour of plunging straight into the killing of Francoise. Frankly, the film works better without it but for all you completists, here it is… and who are we to begrudge Tessari the opportunity to showcase the lovely legs of his wife / muse / assistant, Lorella De Luca?
As for bonus materials… the dynamic commentary duo of Jones and Newman illuminate and entertain on their audio track and Troy Howarth keeps busy with the “visual essay” Murder in Bb Minor. There’s an exhaustive, engrossing hour-long interview with Galli / Stewart in which she admits to an equal enthusiasm for collaborating with Federico Fellini or Lucio Fulci (good for her) and a touching featurette in which De Luca remembers her husband. Erstwhile “most beautiful man in the world” Helmut Berger supplies an introduction to the film and is interviewed in the featurette Mad Dog Helmut… make up your own unkind gag about The Picture Of Dorian Gray. He confesses to mixed feelings about Salon Kitty and reveals that he turned down the title role in Caligula (“Perhaps one Tinto Brass film was enough!” … or perhaps it was one too many?)
You also get the expected trailer and image gallery, reversible sleeve and a booklet with some tasty vintage stills and three essays. James Blackford’s Perversion Story is, as subtitled, a brief introduction to the Italian Giallo and useful enough to any newbies out there. Howard Hughes writes on Gianni Ferrio’s film music and Leonard Jacobs’ Breaking The Fourth Wall has some interesting things to say about how Tessari uses his camera to draw the viewer into the mystery, the tragedy and its resolution.
Another winner from Arrow.