Don't Torture a Duckling Review

Lucio Fulci's third giallo after One on Top of the Other (1969) and A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971), Don't Torture a Duckling (1972) is an intriguing tale of ignorance and bigotry that may not be as good as its predecessors but which firmly cements Fulci as one of the genre's champion filmmakers. Praised as "a superb giallo" by Dario Argento himself, who seems generally to be rather critical of his contemporary's work, this is yet another example of Fulci reigning in his more exploitationist tendencies and producing a solid thriller dependent on mood and plot development rather than overblown gore.

Rural Italy: a serial killer with a penchant for offing young boys is on the loose, and the townsfolk are on the look-out for a scapegoat. A large cast of colourful kooks dutifully present themselves, including the local hermit "witch" Martiara (Florinda Bolkan), the village idiot Giuseppe (Vito Passeri) and reformed junkie Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet), currently hiding out in the village and winding up the local pre-pubescent boys by strutting around in the nude. Into the fray comes Andrea Martelli (Tomas Milian), a newshound from the suburbs, spying a chance for the scoop of the century and getting himself involved in the hunt for the killer. As the usual suspects are either proven innocent or end up dead, Martelli and the local police, inept as usual, must cast their eyes in more unlikely directions...

The Italian title of this film is Non si Sevizia un Paperino, which translates directly as "Don't Torture Donald Duck" and refers to the key clue of a Donald Duck doll, a device that would later be used in another Fulci giallo, The New York Ripper. For obvious legal reasons, the title was not translated directly for the English-speaking market, but it remains one of the strongest examples of giallo filmmakers' affection for bizarre titles often referring to animals. As was usually the case with such titles, this is actually something of a McGuffin that has little bearing on the storyline, but it sets up the twisted nature of the film very well. This piece is gritty, unpleasant and pessimistic, painting a rather negative portrait of rural Italy and showing the depths to which human beings will sink in order to lay the blame on the easiest target. It is for that reason that, despite being more than 30 years old, it has lost none of its potency, as the events depicted here are frighteningly similar to the witch-hunts that seem to take place in modern times whenever a child is abducted or murdered.

One of these, easily the most disturbing, is a literal witch-hunt and involves the persecution and eventual slaughter of the so-called "witch" Martiara by the townspeople. Living up on the hillside and both shunning and shunned by the locals, she quickly becomes a key target for their wrath, especially when she tries to escape from the police and later claims to have cast a spell on the children. In one of giallo cinema's most brutal and hard-hitting scenes, Martiara is cornered in a graveyard by a band of local yokels and is cruelly beaten to death with metal chains (one wonders if this was the inspiration for The Passion of the Christ, as the two are very similar in their execution, although Fulci's effort is far more effective than that of Mel Gibson). The scene is shocking and hard to watch, and because it is one of the few moments of graphic violence in the film, it has a much stronger effect than any of the violence in Fulci's later gore-fests. Less effective is a face-smashing scene that occurs as the killer plummets down the hillside to his/her death, which Fulci later reproduced in his 1977 effort Seven Notes in Black.

The cast is uniformally good, even if the dubbing is weak, as is so often the case with these films. Although he doesn't enter the frame until the film's second act, Tomas Milian, of Django Kill fame, makes for a good lead. His character, Martelli, is an opportunist, and we never get to learn all that much about him, but he has a down to earth quality that makes him likeable enough. Barbara Bouchet is nicely-cast as the spoilt city girl and former drug addict, who proves to be an unlikely accomplice for Milian and is wonderfully seductive, despite only shedding her atire for one brief scene (Bouchet had something of a reputation for not being able to keep her clothes on). The stand-out, however, is frequent Fulci collaborator Florinda Bolkan, who truly transforms herself for the role of Martiara and gives a wonderfully deranged and eventually heartbreaking performance.

** Warning: the following paragraph contains spoilers. **
Don't Torture a Duckling
attracted no small amount of controversy on its initial release, and as a result suffered from rather lacklustre distribution. Much of the controversy came about as a result of the perceived anti-Catholic stance propogated by the film. By casting a priest as the killer, Fulci was certainly making a fairly clear statement about his view of the spiritual establishment, which, in a predominantly Catholic country like Italy, was bound to cause unrest. The end result is a film that comes down as firmly anti-establishment and anti-vigilantism (the chain-whipping scene leaves the viewer in no doubts as to Fulci's opinions on mob justice). It is certainly unusual to see the normally conservative Fulci taking such a "leftist" stance, and although priest killers were to become two-a-penny in gialli, in this particular film the killer's identity works effectively and actually makes genuine sense.

Despite its careful construction, however, this film is not as good as its predecessor, A Lizard in a Woman's Skin. In particular, the film has a rough, cheap-looking sheen to it which gives everything a rather ugly look. Although Fulci and cinematographer Sergio D'Offizi provide some rather impressive widescreen compositions, the overall photography is rather flat and colourless. This may be a fault of Anchor Bay's transfer, but I'm not convinced. Fulci also throws in an abundance of pointless zoom shots which feel for all the world like the result of a director discovering a new toy and feeling required to use it as often as possible. These elements are rather distracting and prove that Fulci was never as visually adept as the likes of Argento or Mario Bava. Indeed, while A Lizard in a Woman's Skin featured a number of decent attempts at creating an interesting and unique style, through the use of split-screen and deliberately off-the-wall dream sequences, there is no real equivalent in Don't Torture a Duckling. Nevertheless, it is a solid giallo and definitely a decent effort from Fulci. If all his films had been of this calibre, I suspect that he would be remembered in a much more positive light.

DVD Presentation

Don't Torture a Duckling is presented anamorphically in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The result is a reasonably serviceable transfer, although it is lacking in detail and has a "roughness" akin to that of Anchor Bay's Tenebre release, suggesting that an analogue source was used, such as a LaserDisc master, rather than being transferred digitally from the original negative. It's not awful, but it doesn't look particularly stunning. Full marks, however, to Anchor Bay for choosing to leave in the original "Fine Primo Tempo" and "Secondo Tempo" titles that occur at the film's half-way point.

The audio, as is so often the case, sounds reasonable but suffers due to its age. Fidelity is not particularly strong on this 2.0 mono track, and the voices often have a somewhat muffled quality to them. Additionally, I would have preferred to see the Italian dub included as an option instead of just the English version. Sadly, no subtitles are provided.

The only extra is a brief Lucio Fulci biography, which I'm not even going to bother rating given that it contains nothing that could not be found after a few minutes on the Internet.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 09:08:04

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