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Two 1970s Italian crime films from Raro Video are downbeat police procedurals combined with other oddball elements.

From 1970, Duccio Tessari’s Death Occurred Last Night predates the avalanche of tough-guy Italian cop/action films that emerged in the wake of Dirty Harry and The French Connection. This one features a sensitive cop (Frank Wolff) who goes home from his thankless, depressing chores to play guitar with his fabulous reporter-girlfriend (Eva Renzi) and moan about the state of the world. Wolfe plays impassively or with a weary if inappropriate smile.

Freshly on demand from Warner Archive are two TV movies that served as pilots for prospective 1970s crime series. One of them succeeded, the other didn’t.

The Girl in the Empty Grave is the first of two 1977 movies starring Andy Griffith as Abel Marsh, police chief of the sleepy, beautiful town of Jasper Lake (actually Big Bear Lake) in the San Bernardino Mountains; Warner Archive has already released the sequel, Deadly Game. As scripted by Lane Slate, this mystery about a local girl who apparently didn’t die in the opening car-off-the-cliff stunt is a routine procedural enlivened by gorgeous locations and lots of comic, none-too-scintillating small-town interplay divided between deadpan repetitions and kvetching over budget issues. Maybe one reason for their money problems is that they seem to have at least two officers too many. For more comic relief, Marsh drives a DeSoto that doesn’t always run. The modestly clever plot winds down in an endless, unnecessary, picturesque car chase.

Former crooner Dick Powell, now working the tough-guy beat, plays Rocky Mulloy. He was sent up for a robbery/murder he didn’t commit, and he’s just been sprung from a life sentence after five years. The ex-Marine who provided his alibi is on the make for some of that stolen cash, so he’s disappointed that Rocky’s innocent. Rocky looks up Nancy (Rhonda Fleming), an old flame married to a buddy still imprisoned for the same robbery. Rocky and Nancy are still stuck on each other, even though she’s “out of bounds”. Most of all, Rocky hounds Castro (William Conrad, in several wonderful scenes of humiliation), a scuzzball responsible for his woes. Rocky’s driven, angry, sledge-hammer approach is indirectly responsible for getting a quasi-innocent party killed.

Sleep My Love (not to be confused with Arise My Love, also starring Claudette Colbert) is the middle of three woman-in-danger thrillers directed by Douglas Sirk in the late 1940s. From the first reel, the audience knows it’s what they used to call the Gaslight routine, the plot where the husband tries to convince the rich wife she’s losing her marbles so he can inherit her dough and trade her in on the younger model waiting in the wings. The attraction of this device is that it taps into women’s insecurities about being patronized, disbelieved, and manipulated by male-dominated society. The drawback is that it makes the heroines into the most frustratingly obtuse idiots in the world.

In a public market in Marrakesh, a man in the crowd grimaces and turns to show an enormous decorated blade sticking out of his back. He’s hastily covered with a blanket and carried away by his killers, apparently before anyone notices. This leads to the question: if you want to stab someone discreetly, why use a great honking blade with a foot-long handle? The answer, of course, is to make an exciting and picturesque moment reminiscent of The Man Who Knew Too Much, without being as good and whether it makes sense or not. This flimsy, silly, light-hearted plot isn’t going for sense.

So begins Bang, Bang, You’re Dead (the onscreen title doesn’t have the exclamation points of the packaging), one of about a million spy spoofs that flooded screens in the 1960s in the James Bond craze. They needed two things: pretty girls and pretty locations, and this inexpensive item from producer Harry Alan Towers offers both.

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