[9 May 2014]
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.
The show is stolen by Raf Vallone as a grieving, angry father whose daughter is kidnapped. She’s 25 with the mind of a three-year-old, we’re told—a three-year-old nymphomaniac. “It’s her illness!” he declares hopelessly, as we flashback to the woman-child struggling with her bra, which her father must put on in a moment of queasy titillation as popstar Mina screams on the soundtrack. Also present are Beryl Cunningham as a sad and jaded black prostitue in Orphan Annie wig, Gabriele Tinti as a studly detective perpetually ordered to get a haircut, and Gigi Rizzi as a car-dealing pimp. All are well-played, and the ending has an effective melodramatic punch.
Even odder is the only film directed by one Lucio Marcaccini, Hallucination Strip. In one plotline, compassionate yet hard-headed cop Marcel Bozzuffi spouts tirades against poor parenting and the corrupt justice system as he attempts to arrest a drug-dealing Sicilian while teens are overdosing all about. This is braided with the adventures of a student (bearded and longhaired Bud Cort, fresh from Harold and Maude ) who steals a valuable snuffbox from his girlfriend’s wealthy parents (with her help) and scores drugs for the party of a pale, frail, spoiled young man who seems to have drifted in from a decadent Visconti movie.
This element is patterned after American hippie flicks of a few years earlier, such as Psych-Out (and really Roger Corman’s The Trip, although that’s in a class by itself), whose sense of moral drama goes back to the likes of Reefer Madness with virtually no alteration. For that matter, this is true of later prestige items like Requiem for a Dream as well. The big setpiece, and the reason to see the film, is a long surreal LSD hallucination with a modern dance troupe of topless green snake-girls bursting out of a womb while guys in thongs cannibalize a woman in a nun’s wimple and our wispy rich boy gets naked and Oedipal (not to be confused with edible). It’s a strangely self-conscious element, as we’d earlier seen the boy preparing this allegedly imaginary performance piece.
Marcaccini prepared the film under an Italian title that means “The Dark in the Brain”, but distributors gave it a title in keeping with current police dramas, translating as “Rome Drugged: The Police May Not Intervene”. The original English-dubbed title, as seen in the trailer, is The Hallucinating Trip, and I have no idea how it arrived at Hallucination Strip.
Both films come with Italian and English soundtrack options. The English track of Hallucination Strip is the only way to hear Cort’s voice, which is dubbed very differently in Italian. The dialogue is often different, as can be seen from the optional subtitles. Aside from the trailers, the extra is an interview with editor Giulio Berruti, who fabricated the disorienting, back-and-forth, “psychedelic” style out of what footage he could find. This one’s digitally restored from the original 35mm negative, which apparently has big round reel-change marks. Even so, it looks much better than we’d expect from an obscure Italian flop.