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August 25, 2011

Don't Torture a Duckling

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Non si sevizia un paperino
Lucio Fulci - 1972
Shameless Entertainment Region 0 DVD

At the time I received my preview copy of Don't Torture a Duckling, the riots that burned down the Sony warehouse had not happened. This review is posted a few days in advance of the official release date. As Shameless was one of several DVD companies affected by the riots, the release date and availability of this DVD may be affected. Considered by some to be Lucio Fulci's best film, this is one which would benefit the most with some accompanying material to put the film in greater context, both as part of Fulci's filmography, as well as the concerns raised in the subject matter. I should note that the DVD comes with notes by Stephen Thrower from his study of Fulci, Beyond Terror, but I have read neither those notes nor the book. Compared to some of Fulci's other films, the narrative aspects were done with greater care. Even so, what I suspect is that Fulci used some of the trappings of the mystery primarily to address other concerns.

The film takes place in a small, out of the way, Italian town called Accendura. Several young boys are found murdered, all strangled. The police investigate several suspects. A big city newspaper reporter also worms his way into the investigation, sometimes helping the police. The town is like some shown in other Italian movies, where everyone seems to know everyone else, the local women all dress in black, and strangers are regarded with suspicion. The town is off of a major highway, providing simply symbolism for a place stuck in time while the future speeds by.

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The three leading suspects are outsiders of different kinds. The first is a mentally handicapped man who jeopardizes himself until it is clear that he is unaware of the implications of his actions. The second suspect is a woman, Maciara, reputed to practice witchcraft. There is finally the young woman, Patrizia, from Milan, the daughter of a man from the small town who found is fortune in the big city. The young priest mentions to the reporter that strange incidences in town have coincided with Patrizia's arrival.

What Fulci seems to be primarily interested in here is attacking small town conformity, with a side swipe at some of the dogma of the Catholic Church. The townspeople are eager to find someone to accuse and punish for the murders. The insularity of the town in reinforced when the priest mentions that he does not allow certain newspapers and magazines to be made available. Maciara and Patrizia pose as the greatest threats because they are both single women in a town where women are almost invisible, and are both fiercely independent. Patrizia's very sexual presence stirs the imagination of some of the pre-adolescent boys who have been discovered dead.

One of Lucio Fulci's films still unavailable as a subtitled DVD is the one he has stated is his favorite, Beatrice Cenci. Not a horror film, but in part a critique of the Catholic Church in a late 16th Century setting. Having this film available might be key in discussing how religion is treated in Don't Torture a Duckling, as well as reminding even his most rabid fans that Fulci was more than the purveyor movies about eye gouging and zombies.

There are some actors of note here: Tomas Milian, Barbara Bouchet and Irene Pappas. (One could program a double feature of Barbara Bouchet movies that feature headless dolls, with The Red Queen Kills Seven Times.) The film belongs to Florinda Bolkan. Never more feral on screen than in the opening shots where we see her clawing at the dirt, uncovering a small skeleton. Fulci's close ups provide a geographical study of Bolkan's face when she bares her teeth and stares straight into the camera. Bolkan is also in the most brutal scene in Don't Torture a Duckling, albeit one that is not exploitive. It is no small coincidence that Bolkan starred in Fulci's other best animal titled film, Lizard in a Woman's Skin. Whatever one might think of Lucio Fulci and his films, he tapped into the certain strengths, a physicality, that Florinda Bolkan possessed, bringing it out in full force, literally seen in her ripped flesh.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 25, 2011 08:00 AM