Giulio Questi, 1968
Starring: Gina Lollobrigida, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Ewa Aulin
Anna, the wealthy owner of a chicken farm, doesn’t realize that her husband Marco has a secret hobby: murdering prostitutes. They have to deal with local police hunting for the killer, and strife on the farm thanks to workers they have laid off since nearly the entire farm became mechanized. Anna also doesn’t realize that Marco wants to leave her for her beautiful cousin, Gabriella, and though Gabriella strings him along, she really has other plans. Meanwhile, scientists experimenting on Anna’s chickens are coming up with some disturbing results in what is surely the weirdest giallo ever made.
This Italian-French coproduction, also known as Plucked and Curious Way to Love reunites the stars from Tinto Brass’s Deadly Sweet (1967), prolific and talented French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant and lovely Swedish model Ewa Aulin. As with Deadly Sweet and A Quiet Place in the Country (1968), Death Laid an Egg is one of a few giallo films made between the first official giallo – Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (1964) – and Dario Argento’s Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), the film that effectively launched a decade of imitators. It would be fair to say that all of these films are completely bizarre – as they did not conform to any of the themes and tropes that would later come to define giallo films – and are just spectacularly strange.
If you have a problem with films that don’t make any sense, the giallo genre as a whole is just not for you, but Death Laid an Egg is especially not. It has some of the standard giallo plot devices, such as romantic drama in the form of Marco having an affair with Gabriella and wanting to leave his wife, and murder, backstabbing, and secret alliances. Typically, a giallo follows the protagonist – a neutral character trying to solve a murder mystery – but Death Laid an Egg is simply full of twists and turns. SPOILERS HERE: The main intrigue is that Gabriella knows Marco is guilty of murder, but conspires to have him sent to prison – she secretly has a husband waiting in the wings – so that she will inherit Anna’s money. Another twist is that Marco is not really a serial murderer, but an avid fantasist who pays prostitutes – all of whom survive the role play.
Because it was made before the giallo boom, this unusual film is a free-wheeling attempt to create a stylish thriller with sex, violence, and… politics. It wouldn’t be making a huge stretch to say that Death Laid an Egg borrows something from directors like Bunuel, Fellini, and Pasolini in the sense that political themes – mainly a critique of modern industry, bourgeois life, and consumer culture – are as important as the murder plot. Consider that this was made in 1968, a time of unprecedented (at least during times of peace) political uproar and violence in countries like Germany, France, and Italy, as well as the U.S. and Eastern Europe, that has not been repeated since. Debates about civil rights and the nature of capitalism led to strikes, protests, and deaths. For a cursory introduction, check out the Wikipedia page.
Director Giulio Questi -- who also made the complete strange, wonderful, and cumbersomely titled spaghetti western Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot! – makes a clear connection between greed and violence. He gradually weaves together the complex events: Anna’s greed, Marco’s obsession with murder, and Gabriella and her husband’s dastardly plan to steal all the wealth for themselves are entwined with the mechanization and automation of the chicken factory. All of the workers are laid off, and they angrily glare beyond the fence, while inside scientists are performing cruel experiments on the chickens. They first attempt to create boneless chickens – to cut down on work and cost – and one of the scientist breeds a horrible mutant chicken without a head or wings. The characters ultimately find themselves victims of the corrupting influence of greed and there is, delightfully, a death caused by the grain distribution machine.
While Death Laid an Egg is not recommended for giallo newbies, a certain audience will find a lot to love. There is some creative and unusual editing, a dissonant score that somehow works, and dialogue straight out of a pro-Marxist play about the evils of bourgeois society. It would make an interesting double feature with Pasolini’s Teorema, released the same year, as both examine industrial factories as a place of ultimate dehumanization, where the value of life is always less than the value of goods, and humans are infinite and interchangeable. Death Laid an Egg is fortunately available on DVD and is worth a watch for anyone adventurous enough to swallow the concept of a giallo film set in a chicken factory.