Then, out of the blue, her charred remains are discovered in a country field.
Stricken with grief, Berzaghi throws out all of her toys. He notices her favourite toy, a tatty bear which disappeared from his apartment on the day of her abduction, on the dashboard of the rubbish truck. The binmen tell him that they found the bear among rubbish which was taken from his own apartment block a month previously. Meanwhile, Berzaghi and Mascaranti have unearthed a new lead, which takes them to a country hotel. The hotel's owner reveals that his cousin was Donatella's pimp, having bought her from friends of Berzaghi.
Berzaghi asks around his apartment block, but-surprisingly-no-one admits to having thrown Donatella's bear out. His next door neighbour drops her bag of shopping when she sees the bear, though, which alerts him to her possible guilt.
The police arrive back in town just in time to discover Berzaghi surrounded by the corpses of the people who took his daughter from him. Lamberti castigates him for administering his own justice; Berzaghi is trapped in a nightmare from which he may never emerge.
The film covers ground similar to that which would later be covered by What Have They Done to Your Daughters?, namely the apparent statistic of 'thousands' of girls who went missing every year in 70s Italy. (Although, saying that, What Have They Done doesn't actually deal with that at all, it just includes an end title card which refers to the 8000 teens who go missing every year.) Death Occurred also deals with mental illness, and society's willingness to banish anyone with such a condition to a hospital (God help them if they get sent to the one from The Cold Blooded Beast).
It touches on many, many other socially-relevant issues-the struggle to survive for those less well-off; the lack of alternative options for young women once they get on the game; the secrets and omitted truths which exist in all households; the corruptibility of the human spirit. It even, through a series of conversations between Frank Wolff's Inspector Lamberti and his photographer girlfriend, interrogates the position that art occupies in a downtrodden society, as well as the need for, and sense of existential futility of being a part of, a police force. This explains Lamberti's rage at the film's climax; Berzaghi has rendered him impotent and useless by assuming his role as the meter/metre of justice.
The film is grounded in realism to a far greater degree than other gialli, thanks largely, no doubt, to Tessari's background in documentaries. His next giallo, The Bloodstained Butterfly, also strove for verisimilitude, with a police forensics squad thanked in the end credits. This film doesn't have the style of that later effort; with frequent handheld and long-lens shots prioritising a sense of authenticity and location over style. There are no classic murder set-pieces; the only on-screen murders occur towards the end, and are appropriately gritty-a pimp is shot in the back, and Berzaghi brawls his way through his daughters' captors in an extremely crude, but effective, manner.
Berzaghi, brilliantly played by Raf Vallone, is given far more space than is usual in which to grieve. Whereas most films zip along from murder to murder, with the only consequence being the redoubling of determination on the part of the police/amateur detective to catch and punish the killer, here we witness a man in the depths of despair; almost a meditation on grief and loss. We see a man who, after his wife died, had positioned his daughter at the centre of his world, and seeing him come to terms with the sudden loss of this focal point is harrowing. We can fully understand why he acts as he does at the film's climax; his earlier promise to stay alive for a thousand years, if that was how long it took to catch the killer, succinctly describes his outlook after the loss of Donatella. She was his everything, and, after losing her, witnessing justice enacted is his everything. His 'life' ends when she is avenged, and we know that he may well see out the remainder of his days in prison for the three murders, thus fulfilling his own prophecy.
His passionate administering of justice, which angers Lamberti so much, perfectly encapsulates the argument for a transparent legal mechanism to objectively try and convict those guilty of crimes. If you're emotionally involved with the victim, you cannot approach the subject of punishment with a clear and open mind. There's a sense, though, that Lamberti feels powerless to do any real good in the world he inhabits; for every crime he solves, for every missing girl he finds, there are a dozen more cases which require his attention. It's tempting to see his anger and frustration as being directed at the world, rather than Berzaghi, as he comes upon the massacre at the film's climax.
There's not much to the film in terms of plot; the first half basically involves Lamberti and Mascaranti-who sports a Torso-esque neckerchief, and a frequently commented-upon haircut which seems to be part of set-up for a final scene pay-off which never comes-asking prostitutes if they've seen Donatella. Once her body is found, the police and her father conduct divergent investigations, with the convergence coming just too late for the police. These investigations aren't complex, however; they're strictly of an A-B-C nature.
As previously stated, Death Occurred contains no great stylistic flourishes, apart from a love of an idiosyncratically-scored montage. It also introduces a whodunnit aspect late in the game, in terms of producing suspects from who we can guess the murderer(s). Indeed, for much of the running time, it feels as if we may be presented with an indictment of a system, a la What Have They Done to Your Daughter?, rather than a guilty party. The script also contains some odd bits of dialogue; Mascaranti comes off particularly poorly in his early exchanges, and Lamberti tells his girlfriend, after she complains about the commotion in their apartment, that a woman who moves in with a man needs to come to terms with the consequences of his job. Then, about 8 seconds later, as he gets out of bed, he himself sighs and laments the lack of peace and quiet.
I'd imagine that any giallo-fiends who haven't seen the film aren't foaming at the mouth right now (if you are, see a doctor-you might be very ill). Death Occurred may not satisfy fans of trash, but anyone who appreciates a well-crafted mystery, with brilliant performances, guided by the hand of one of the very best directors of his generation (as I previously said in my review of Bloodstained Butterfly, watch The Return of Ringo immediately, if you haven't seen it) should find much to admire in this unsung gem.