A young woman with learning difficulties goes missing. The police believe she has been kidnapped for sex trafficking purposes and focus their attention on the local brothels. When her burned body is found on a patch of waste ground, it becomes a murder enquiry. Then her father accidentally stumbles across a significant clue to her killer…
Character-driven police drama with a touch of Giallo from co-writer and director Duccio Tessari and based on a novel by Giorgio Scerbaneco. It’s a very serious piece spearheaded by two outstanding central performances and a script that escalates from an almost routine beginning to a climax of startling violence.
Pretty young twenty-something Donatella Bergzighi (Gillian Gray) has the mind of a child. Her father Amanzio (Raf Vallone) keeps her locked in their flat when he’s at work due to her nymphomaniac tendencies. When he returns one day to find her gone without a trace, he reports the matter to the police but the investigation stalls immediately. Frustrated and desperate when she’s been missing for a month, he makes a personal appeal to Captain of Police (Frank Wolff). The senior officer agrees to investigate, accompanied by his young partner Mascaranti (Gabriele Tinti).
Wolff is convinced that the girl has been sold into prostitution and targets reluctant local pimp Salvatore (Gigi Rizzi) for information. A tour of the local establishments follows, and Wolff gets a lead from working girl Herrero (Beryl Cunningham) after she initially refuses to help. Wolff takes the unusual step of taking her into protective custody in the home he shares with his wife (Eva Renzi). But events take a tragic turn when Gray’s lifeless body is discovered, and Vallone becomes involved in the hunt for the truth.
Tessari’s film begins as a standard police procedural with Wolff and Tinti’s investigations centring on legwork rather than inspiration. These early scenes are determinedly low-key and focus on routine and every day realism, with Wolff acting as mentor to his slightly brash, insensitive young partner. However, it’s in the domestic scenes where the film really scores, with Wolff and Renzi making for a completely convincing long-term couple. He’s a committed lawman who ant help but get personally involved while still able to acknowledge the overall futility of his crusade. She’s the socially-conscious pragmatist who doesn’t bat an eye when he brings Cunningham home to stay for a while. Although these early scenes might not seem important, they lay an important groundwork which helps give later developments a more lasting impact.
Overall, the plot may not be anything too remarkable but the script by Tessari, Biagio Proietti and Artfur Brauner makes the most out of every scene and provides a fine platform for Wolff, Vallone and the rest of the cast. Even Tinti’s character, which may seem a little one-dimensional at first, takes on more depth as events unfold and he is forced to confront some unpleasant truths. No, it’s by no means a vital element of the film, but it’s this kind of attention to detail that gives the film a richer quality than most of a similar stamp. Perhaps the highlight is the gut-wrenching scene where Wolff watches Vallone as he packs up his dead little girl’s belongings and cuddly toys to throw out with the trash. It’s a master of understatement by both actors, absolutely heartbreaking and hard to watch.
Sadly, there were to be no further adventures for the partnership of Wolff and Tinti. American-born actor Wolff began his career with small roles in Roger Corman films such as ‘The Wasp Woman’ (1959) and ‘Beast From Haunted Cave’ (1959) and had a few roles on Network TV before trying his luck in Italy. Success followed with his first role, co-starring with Salvo Randone in historical Mafia drama ‘Salvatore Giuliano’ (1962), but he found his greatest success with Spaghetti Westerns, including ‘Ringo, the Mark of Vengeance’ (1966), ‘Last of the Badmen’ (1967) and ‘God Forgives…I Don’t! (1967). There were also significant supporting roles in Sergio Corbicci’s ‘The Great silence’ (1968), ‘Villa Rides’ (1968) with Yul Brynner and Robert Mitchum and in Sergio Leone’s masterpiece ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’ (1969). However, the actor struggled with chronic depression and took his own life in Rome’s Hilton Hotel in December 1971.
Vallone, on the other hand, had been a mainstay of Italian cinema since the early 1940s and within two decades had built his career to third-billing below an Oscar-winning Sophia Loren in Vittorio De Sica’s ‘Two Women’ (1960). He occupied the same place behind her and Charlton Heston in the epic ‘El Cid’ (1961), played with Stewart Granger and Mickey Rooney in ‘The Secret Invasion’ (1964), was the ‘Bond villain’ in ‘Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die’ (1966) and had a significant role in caper classic ‘The Italian Job’ (1969). He continued working in Italian pictures and TV throughout the 1970s, with the occasional American project such as ‘The Greek Tycoon’ (1978). One of us last big screen appearances was as the Cardinal in Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Godfather Part III’ (1990).
Like Wolff, Tessari also found his first big success in Spaghetti Westerns, cutting his teeth on the script for Sergio Leone’s classic ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ (1964). He had already been working as a writer in the local industry for over a decade and a half by then, contributing to such Peplum outings as ‘Colossus and the Amazon Queen’ (1960), ‘Hercules Conquers Atlantis’ (1961) and ‘Hercules and the Haunted World’ (1961) for director Mario Bava. He first picked up the megaphone for the similarly themed ‘Sons of Thunder’ (1962) but became best known for some of the entries in the ‘Ringo’ series of Westerns. By 1970, however, he had already diversified with caper films, comedies and crime dramas, such as ‘I Bastardi/The Bastard’ (1968) which starred Rita Hayworth and Klaus Kinski. He followed this film with full-blown Giallo ‘The Bloodstained Butterfly’ (1971) but his most significant other work was action-comedy ‘Zorro’ (1975) with Alain Delon and Stanley Baker.
A quiet but surprisingly effective hybrid of crime drama and Giallo that sneaks up on the viewer unawares and leaves a lasting impression. Well worth the trouble of seeking out.