With its haunting Venetian setting and grim treatment of a grief-stricken father's desperate attempt to cope with the murder of his young daughter, "Who Saw Her Die" is these days most often paired with Nicolas Roeg's masterpiece, "Don't Look Now" (made only a year later). In reality, it has more in common with another Venice located giallo, "The Bloodstained Butterfly" as well as certain themes in common with Fulci's "Don't Torture a Duckling". Here, director Aldo Lado, while outwardly conforming to every single giallo motif and rehearsing many of the common themes of the genre, is, as always, attempting to use the giallo to comment on contemporary society. Both of Lado's other films — "The Short Night of Glass Dolls" and "Night Train Murders" — use exploitation elements and genre conventions as material for political commentary. "Short Night ..." was a conspiracy gialli/thriller which functioned as political allegory, while "Night Train Murders" used its retelling of "Last House on the Left" to make hard hitting left wing polemic. "Who Saw Her Die" doesn't really need to subvert the genre in quite the same way though: the ordinary giallo was already perfectly suited to Lado's style of film making and storytelling since it was already primarily concerned with uncovering hidden power relations. And dark, troubling sexuality has often been used in the genre as a Freudian expose of the hidden corners of the human mind, most notable in the early gialli of Dario Argento. In many a giallo, the fetishistic black garbed killer is shielded from view by a conventional authority role which protects him/her from suspicion, from Argento's "Bird with the Crystal Plumage" onwards; and while that film in particular almost functions as a template for the trajectory of Lado's (as it did for many less inspired copy cat pictures), "Who Saw Her Die" is a more leisurely paced affair — concentrating on atmosphere rather than body count.
Because of this, Lado's theoretical approach will not be apparent to the casual viewer; compared to his other films, this one plays quite straight. In it, George Lazenby (looking like a trim '70s George Harrison, with long hair and droopy moustache) plays sculptor Franco Serpieri. While living estranged from his wife Elizabeth (Anita Strindberg) in Venice, Franco looks after the couple's pretty red-haired daughter, Roberta (Nicoletta Elmi), with his wife remaining in London. After Roberta goes missing and her body is later fished out of the waters, a distraught Franco vows to track down his daughter's killer himself, since the police do not seem able to come up with any leads. Soon enough, a previous child murder also involving a striking red-haired child (like Roberta) comes to light, connecting a host of powerful but dubious persons to the current case: a rich, quasi-pedophile lawyer (Jose Quaglio), an art patron (Adolfo Celi) and some blackmailing lovers (Dominique Boschero and Peter Chatel) all seem to be involved in a conspiracy to protect the killer, and possibly a lot more dubious activities besides.
This conventional mystery thriller approach, with Franco's attempts to expose the killer bringing to light a hornet's nest of taboo activity by the great and the good, follows a course which will be familiar to most giallo viewers, although it is far more sedately paced than most. Lado throws as many giallo references into the mix as possible, and things heat up towards the end when, in familiar giallo fashion, Franco's revelations lead the murderer to go on a killing spree in an attempt to cover his tracks. A particularly noticeable score from the ubiquitous Ennio Morricone and striking cinematography by Franco Di Giacomo provides the finishing touches to a rewarding effort which actually gets better the more one views it. Venice looks particularly magnificent both at night and in the day, and is as ghostly and threatening here as it was in Roeg's "Don't Look Now" a year later. All in all, this is classy, atmospheric entry in the giallo genre that stands up well alongside Argento's best, as well as films such as "The House with the Windows that Laughed".
Shameless films provide a nice transfer here, on a par with Anchor Bay's treatment several years ago. The English dub is notoriously bad and doesn't do much to enhance the atmosphere, though.