Tuesday 9 April 2024

Death Laid an Egg (1968)

Giulio Questi’s Death Laid an Egg (AKA Plucked AKA A Curious Way to Love, original Italian title La morte ha fatto l’uovo) is an attempt to combine the giallo and the art film. It’s an attempt that mostly fails but the movie is not a total loss.

We start with a strange scene of the murder of a woman. It’s strange because it reveals the identity of the psycho killer right from the start.

The killer is Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and he runs a high-tech poultry farm with his wife Anna (Gina Lollobrigida). Very high-tech. It’s completely automated. The farm requires no other human workers whatsoever.

Living with Marco and Anna is Anna’s poor relation cousin Gabrielle (Ewa Aulin). Given that Anna is in her early 40s and Gabrielle is an amazingly cute blonde 18-year-old you can see that there’s plenty of potential for trouble there. And sure enough Marco is taking a very keen interest in Gabrielle.

While this is happening there’s lots of stuff about the poultry farm and about the scientific experiments being conducted there, aimed at breeding mutant chickens that will maximise profits. I think it’s safe to say that the chicken farm is being used as an amazingly heavy-handed metaphor for capitalism. There’s a sinister poultry industry association and they’ve hired whizz-kid publicist Mondaini (Jean Sobieski) to persuade Italians not just to eat more chicken but to make poultry the centre of their lives.

Given that the publicist is a good-looking young guy who spends a lot of time at the poultry farm there’s more potential for trouble there, and sure enough there’s something going on between Mondaini and Gabrielle.

This all sounds like a lot of fun, but it isn’t. Questi just doesn’t have the necessary lightness of touch. And he’s obsessed with the chicken stuff.

There’s a giallo plot buried in here somewhere, with a couple of very nice twists, but it takes forever to develop. Questi is too busy showing us endless scenes involving chickens and bludgeoning us with crude political metaphors.

It’s difficult to judge the acting. Jean-Louis Trintignant seems to be in a daze, as if he has no idea what the movie is about. One can’t blame him. Gina Lollobrigida does her best. Ewa Aulin comes off best since her character has traces of actual personality.

There’s some game-playing going on between the four main characters, which needed to be developed a bit more. And there’s lots and lots of stuff about the fiendish plots of evil businessmen exploiting both the workers and the chickens.

The Nucleus Films Blu-Ray includes two cuts of the movie, the shortened “giallo” cut which runs 91 minutes and a much longer “director’s cut” running 104 minutes. If you watch that cut in the English-language version it’s easy to spot the scenes that were deleted for the giallo cut and subsequently restored because they’re Italian rather than English. It’s also easy to see why those scenes were cut out. They were cut out because they’re boring pretentious self-indulgent nonsense.

If you decide to see this movie then you should definitely watch the shorter giallo cut. You won’t miss out on anything of value but you will be spared a lot of tedium.

What you have here are two movies running in tandem. One is the sort of tedious, clumsy, obvious political film that you’d expect from a first-year film student. That movie is, like all political movies, a very bad movie. The second movie is a surprisingly extremely good and interesting giallo. The “director’s cut” was a very bad idea because it puts so much focus on the bad movie half.

Questi made very few feature films and it’s easy to see why. He’s self-indulgent and undisciplined.

I also think it’s safe to say that Bruno Maderna’s score is the worst score in the history of motion pictures.

I should point out at this point that although I dislike political films I have no problems at all with arty films or with weird crazy films or with incoherent plots.

The frustrating thing is that the giallo plot is very cool indeed and it builds to a very satisfying climax. So despite its egregious flaws this movie is worth watching.

Nucleus Films have done a great job with the Blu-Ray. There are lots of extras including a fair and even-handed audio commentary by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman.

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