Don’t Torture a Duckling
Starring Florinda Bolkan, Barbara Bouchet, Tomas Milian
Review by Jordan
The directorial career of Lucio Fulci is punctuated with some grandiose highs that have become synonymous with both vivid surrealism and unanimous controversy, his biggest hit The Beyond rivalling the supernatural terror of Suspiria in many fans eyes. Despite this though, ultimately his extensive catalogue stands as a whole undistinguished, rushed and cheapened with shock tactics that would work against the grain of the medium.
Don’t Torture a Duckling, his scarcely discussed 1972 thriller represents both aspects, being at times amateurish in its execution yet also fiercely compelling. The elements of the story featuring a tabloid journalist investigating a series of murders, eventually teaming up with a mysterious outsider while the police fumble for clues hint at Giallo roots, but the demographic of the victims and ultimate resolution take it to far different, more confronting places. It is believed that the significant lack of exposure and limited release afforded to Don’t Torture a Duckling are majorly due to its portrayal of the Catholic church.
The flaws are glaring, but the audacious moments far more interesting. A scene, for instance, in which an armed mob descends on the town outcast: a gypsy woman thought to be responsible for the killings, is backed by blaring pop music coming from a nearby speaker. This juxtaposition has now become commonplace thanks to the fame and influence of film-makers such as Quentin Tarantino, but never has it been used to such striking effect. The graphic nature of the occasional violence too acts as a precursor to what Fulci and his peers would later focus on, blending realism with sensationalism with memorable outcomes.
Like many films of this era, the English dubbing leaves a lot to be desired. Having an enjoyment of the unmistakably Italian locales and Riz Ortolani’s superb music disturbed by an abrupt English phrase or word derails a moment of immersion a viewer might have, but while this can be frustrating it’s never a flaw I dwell on, as this is often out of the creative control of the director and certainly the talent in front of the camera. In respect to the talent, Barbara Bouchet as the wealthy, enchanting Patrizia steals most of the dread infused scenes she’s in, adding the tenuous link to more traditionally Italian thrillers such as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) and Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (1964) with her model looks and suspected involvement in the crimes.
Don’t Torture a Duckling is a strange, misplaced classic too purposeful to ignore. Never officially released in the US, it represents a niche corner in film history that will reward the adventurous who appreciate the tackling of serious themes packaged with post-production techniques well before their time.