Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #542
Number of Views: One
Release Date: September 29, 1972
Country of Origin: Italy
Box Office: ITL 1,101,461,000
Running Time: 102 minutes
Director: Lucio Fulci
Producer: Renato Jaboni
Screenplay: Gianfranco Clerici, Lucio Fulci, Roberto Gianviti
Special Effects: Franco Di Girolamo, Nilo Jacoponi
Cinematography: Sergio D’Offizi
Score: Riz Ortolani
Editing: Ornella Micheli
Studio: Medusa Produzione
Distributors: Nightmare Video, Anchor Bay Entertainment
Stars: Florinda Bolkan, Barbara Bouchet, Tomas Milian, Marc Porel, Irene Papas, Georges Wilson, Antonello Campodifiori, Ugo D’Alessio, Virgilio Gazzolo, Vito Passeri, Rosalia Maggio, Andrea Aureli, Linda Sini, Franco Balducci
Suggested Audio Candy:
Riz Ortolani Soundtrack Suite
Where certain filmmakers are concerned, I would like to consider myself as something of a completionist. Often that involves delving into the archives and exploring work that may otherwise have eluded you. Lucio Fulci has more than earned this privilege after providing me with numerous hideous moments to savor over the years although this task is a thankless one considering the fluctuating quality of his output. While the likes of Zombi 2, The Gates of Hell Trilogy, and The New York Ripper have provided some fairly magnanimous highlights, not everything this man touched during his long and turbulent has been quite so golden.
Personally, I’m more than happy to slum it with his lesser works and, while Manhattan Baby, Murder Rock and numerous other eighties oddities may be far from his most distinguished hours, there’s still a fair degree of fun to be had, albeit with rose-tinted spectacles firmly in place. However, the Italian maestro was churning out content long before I commenced my gestation and certain earlier works deserve to be explored and appreciated. One such film is Lizard in a Woman’s Skin from 1971 and another arrived hot on its heels a year later and is still regarded as one of his most unsung masterpieces to this very day.
Don’t Torture A Duckling offered an early indication that this man had a bright future ahead of him and, after cutting his teeth with spaghetti westerns and comedies, provided our first taste of the kind of in-your-face splatter that would soon become synonymous with his exclusive brand of no-nonsense filmmaking. Bearing in mind this was the early seventies and audiences still weren’t quite ready for the kind of gushing grue he would serve up later serve up without batting any eyelid, certain moments here were pretty strong stuff.
Fulci had already ruffled feathers with Lizard in a Woman’s Skin landed him in the dock after its scene disemboweled dogs was believed to be real. They weren’t of course and special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi presented the props to the jury to get the director off the hook. But Fulci wasn’t about to censor himself on account of his brush with the law and Don’t Torture A Duckling tackled a storyline just as controversial. This was no ordinary giallo and featured no women being slaughtered. Instead, the killer’s targets were small children and, once again, the alarm bells started ringing. Seen to criticize the Catholic church, the film was promptly blacklisted and never received a theatrical release in the United States as a result.
The story is set against the backdrop of a small picturesque mountain-side resort in Sicily, where peace and quiet is shattered by a spate of killings, all featuring young boys on the cusp of adolescence. In typical small-town fashion, it isn’t long before the finger is pointed, and prime suspects range from the village idiot to self-proclaimed witch Maciara (Florinda Balkan) who further fuels the speculation by unearthing bones and plunging pins into effigies in her down time. When she is later exonerated, local police are left soundly stumped and it is left to whip-smart journalist Andrea (Tomas Milian) to get to the bottom of these atrocities.
With the body count rising and local lynch mobs looking to act first and think later, this once quiet rural village becomes a haven of pointed fingers and fast-rising tensions. Andrea meets the locals and these include dashing local priest Don Alberto (Marc Porel) and an apathetic city girl named Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet), who has long since become disillusioned with the lack of things to do and taken to offering her sexual services to underage boys to spice up her life. If you’re looking for a red herring, then they don’t come much more rosso than this wench.
Anyhoots, Signore Fulci wisely keeps a lid on the identity of our killer, focusing instead on the inhabitants’ intolerance with regards to outsiders and church’s ignorance of the perversity playing out right before their eyes as the bambinos continue to pile up around them. Where the director would later become known for doing away with logic, the narrative structure here is strong and the plot, whilst stretching conventions with an infusion of supernatural and ritualistic undertones, is a far cry from the wacko fare that his later output would openly celebrate. Moreover, the idyllic setting lends itself well to giving Don’t Torture A Duckling a whole different feel from its giallo stablemates.
Director of photography Sergio D’Offizi makes the most of the sun-bleached rural vistas and, despite the wide open expanses of lush green stretching as far as the eye can see, ensures that it still feels insular and suffocating. This is due, in no small part, to the Catholic church and their refusal to update their tired moral code, although Fulci is careful not to place too much emphasis on this and ensures that the murders remain front and center throughout. Meanwhile, Riz Ortolani’s beautiful sweeping score is among the composer’s finest and perfectly compliments the striking visuals.
At the time of his death and, indeed, right through his career, Fulci considered Don’t Torture A Duckling to be his greatest achievement in filmmaking. Understandably it is somewhat long in the tooth by modern standards although, having said that, it has aged remarkably well considering it is now over forty years old. The performances are better than you would expect for a director more focused on what you see than hear and it is undoubtedly something of a one-off in terms of its approach to a genre already in danger of saturation by this point. If nothing else, it shows that Fulci, seldom regarded by his countrymen as a bona fide talent, had something to say that didn’t involve spewing maggots and exposed arteries. Not that I’m complaining mind.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: By all accounts, this is fairly strong stuff when you consider this was released way back in 1972. While any minors are wisely dispatched off-screen, the same hospitality isn’t extended to those above the age of consent. Two scenes in particular highlight Fulci’s meanness of spirit and also his refusal to cut away when the deep red is in full flow. However, the most controversial scene involves female nudity and, more critically, Patrizia’s indecent proposal to a young boy half her age. This landed Fulci in hot water once more and he was forced to produce a dwarf in court to prove that the curious whippersnapper in question didn’t really cop an eyeful of Bouchet’s wares. You see, who said there’s no decent work out there for little people? Makes me glad I never ate my vegetables.
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