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Gavin Schmitt

Blu-ray Review: "Don't Torture a Duckling" (1972)

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A journalist (Tomas Milian) and a morally-suspect young woman (Barbara Bouchet) try to solve a series of child killings in a remote southern Italian town that is rife with superstition and distrust of outsiders.

The script was constructed by a handful of writers, including Gianfranco Clerici, who is probably best known for his controversial "Cannibal Holocaust". This film in many ways is also controversial. Children are shown both as murder victims (which is taboo) and as less than innocent. The latter is probably more realistic than the Opie Taylor version of childhood, however. Over the years, the film has also come to be associated with anti-Catholicism and misogyny, though it would be far too simple to accept either of those accusations.

Briefly stated, the accusation of misogyny, at least in this film, is absurd. Yes, Barbara Bouchet is reduced to her unclothed physical form when we first meet her, so there is that. But the most gripping, emotional scene is the death of a woman and the agony drags on, eating deep into viewer's souls. If anyone watches that scene and thinks the intent was to torture a woman (on film) rather than to create sympathy, that point of view is within the viewer, not the creator.

The star names in this one are Barbara Bouchet, perhaps best known up to this point for "Casino Royale" (1967), and Tomas Milian, who took off with Carol Reed's "The Agony and the Ecstasy" (1965). Bouchet has done well for herself, but Milian is the bigger name for fans of cult or genre film. He popped up again and again in spaghetti westerns before finally going mainstream (i.e Hollywood). Milian may be second only to Lee VanCleef in defining the entire genre.

"Duckling" is said to be Lucio Fulci's most personal film, as well as his favorite. It is also one of his better films, and it is a shame that so many others are better known (not that those others are bad movies, mind you). The voodoo, the child murders, the suspense and development of plot... this is a finely crafted film, and is worth watching again and again. While not as outright gory as some of his work or as exploitative (despite the Bouchet scene), this more subtle approach works well.

Interestingly, although the crumbling architecture of Matera as shown in the film is authentic, it has since had a bit of an economic boom thanks to tourism and repeated appearances on film. Known as "the Subterranean City", Matera has been considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1993 and was declared Italian host of European Capital of Culture for 2019. Those Fulci fans hoping to go location scouting may find that much of it has been revamped.

The 2-disc Blu-ray set from Arrow Video is most likely the last word on "Duckling". We have a new audio commentary by giallo expert Troy Howarth. A new 28-minute video discussion with another giallo expert, author Mikel J. Koven (the creator of he term "vernacular cinema"). A new video essay by critic Kat Ellinger, who addresses the misogyny claims. And extensive interviews with Lucio Fulci, actor Florinda Bolkan, cinematographer Sergio D'Offizi, assistant editor Bruno Micheli and assistant makeup artist Maurizio Trani. It would take half a day or more just to view this material... and you should.

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