La polizia chiede aiuto (1974), directed by Massimo Dallamano, is better known to English-speaking audiences as What Have They Done to Your Daughters? This film follows Dallamano's previous What Have You Done to Solange? (1972) and along with the latter film, La polizia chiede aiuto is often referenced as the second film in a trilogy, the "Schoolgirls in Peril" films, that conclude with Enigma rosso (Red Rings of Fear) (1978). Fans of Italian genre cinema and the genre's traditional critics often enthusiastically debate as to what label to ascribe to La polizia chiede aiuto: is the film "i poliziotteschi minori," as authors Federico Patrizi and Emanuele Cotumaccio relate? (1) or is the film the only other financially successful giallo to be released after 1972 (along with Profondo rosso (1975)), as authors Daniel Dellamorte and Tobias Petterson relate? (2) La polizia chiede aiuto begins and ends with onscreen text, relating to the problems of missing teens in Italy: this is a film which wants to inform its audience and be socially relevant to its culture and at the same time, the movie also wants to be compelling and entertaining and not exploitative. Is the film successful?
Inspector Valentini (Mario Adorf) discovers in an attic loft the body of a fifteen-year-old girl, named Silvia Polvesi (Sherry Buchanan), an apparent victim of suicide. An autopsy is performed. Its results conclude that Silvia's injuries do not match her cause of death (hanging), and evidence was found in her body that she had sex shortly before her death. The police now label the case a homicide. Assistant District Attorney Vittoria Stori (Giovanna Ralli) oversees the case while Inspector Silvestri (Claudio Cassinelli) heads the investigation. Their prime suspect is Silvia's mysterious lover, and through a series of leads, the police discover that Silvia was part of a prostitution racket involving girls her own age...
Little fault can be allocated to the script of La polizia chiede aiuto, penned by Dallamano and Ettore Sanzò. It's a script guided by logic and strictly adheres to the cinematic concept of a police procedural. Stori and Silvestri appear as credible and intelligent and are competent with deductive reasoning. Plot construction is not a problem: there's more than enough material to move the mystery swiftly along. What La polizia chiede aiuto is sorely lacking, and its absence is to the film's serious detriment, is characterization. This is surprising, given the adept casting of the leads. Claudio Cassinelli is perhaps the most underrated actor in Italian genre cinema. In my opinion, he is just as handsome as Franco Nero or Fabio Testi, for example, but is much more talented. Cassinelli is one of the few actors that can appear as impulsive and obsessive and sensitive in the same role (see Morte sospetta di una minorenne (1975)) or as brooding, intense, and violent (see
Diamanti sporchi di sangue (1977)). Beautiful Giovanna Ralli has an incredible vulnerability surrounding her character in the film and she's quite adept at channeling that vulnerability for the entire picture. Mario Adorf's character appears briefly in the film but Adorf's character benefits from having an emotional background, whereas Stori and Silvestri's characters conspicuously have no background whatsoever. Adorf's character has a daughter the same age as the initial victim in the film (which later becomes a big plot point). In a representative scene, Assistant District Attorney Stori meets Silvestri in an elevator after a particularly grueling bout of reviewing gruesome evidence. Stori has also become the target of the killer who is acting in an effort to stop the police investigation. Silvestri reaches out to Stori for a tender moment, and she curtly rebuffs him. That's it. There's almost no characterization to La polizia chiede aiuto.
In my opinion, the almost total absence of any characterization makes La polizia chiede aiuto definitely a minor film, worth revisiting once in a blue moon. There is, however, much to praise within the film. Of particular note are the film's visuals. Franco Delli Colli handsomely lensed La polizia chiede aiuto and Dallamano is also a seasoned and respected cinematographer. It is unsurprising, then, that the film looks so slick, especially the giallo and the poliziottesco sequences. The killer of the film dons a complete black leather outfit, replete with motorcycle helmet to mask his identity. He carries a large butcher's cleaver as his weapon. In a signature giallo sequence, he stalks the dark halls of a hospital in order to attack an injured witness housed there. The killer is discovered by the police, and they give chase in the hallways. One officer rounds the corner, and the killer chops off his hand with plenty of blood spray. The lighting, combined with a judicious use of the killer’s point of view, make this sequence classic gialli, and it rivals the best scenes in the genre. This scene is quickly followed by an exciting motorcycle/car chase (as one appears in every poliziottesco film): the editing is quick and meticulous and the pacing is furious. Overall, La polizia chiede aiuto is a fantastic film to watch, and it has enough signature elements to satisfy both giallo and poliziottesco fans. Not to forget to mention, Stelvio Cipriani composes another amazing score.
Ultimately, La polizia chiede aiuto (What Have They Done to Your Daughters?) (1974) feels too clean, cosmetic, and compartmentalized for me to truly enjoy it. This, however, says more about my artistic taste than serving as an accurate criticism of the film. La polizia chiede aiuto needed to loosen up at some point, have its characters embrace each other or tell another a joke. The film needed some distraction to shake up the proceedings. La polizia chiede aiuto has a mechanical and meticulous story, well-rendered in a sumptuous visual package. If you are a fan of the genre, then this one will find its way to you.
1. Italia calibro 9. Patrizi, Federico and Cotumaccio, Emanuele. Profondo Rosso. Rome: 2001. p. 174.
2. Violent Italy. Dellamorte, Daniel and Petterson, Tobias. Tamara Press. Malmo: 2002. p. 39.