Of the cult film Death Laid an Egg (1968), critic Robert Firsching believed it a mix of giallo, science fiction and drug film elements. I’d add a dash of magical realism garnished with absurdist comedy. Doesn’t sound appetizing. But wait.
Naturally, when a film has such a shape-shifting narrative foundation, things can go wrong – and occasionally they do. The film sputters somewhat at the finish line, but what an odd, lopsided ride.
When the film works, it does so because the actors play it straight. With the leads, Ewa Aulin, Gina Lollobrigida and Jean-Louis Trintignan, there’s no hamming, no farcical flourishes, no carpet chewing. The director, Giulio Questi, must have told them, “Look, this one of those films where the performances hold it together, not the script, and certainly not expectations of the genre, whatever that is. It means you guys are pulling the weight.”
This is such an Italian film: for whatever reasons (actually, I can think of ten good ones), Italian films can be deft at manipulating a sense of playfulness – with the ultimate clown, I suppose, played by Fellini. It’s this light touch that’s used as a veil to introduce more profound topics.
If you just read the script with its peregrinations about inhuman factory automation, the class system, unions, swinger parties, et.al, you’d accurately appraise Death Laid an Egg as made in the late 1960s.
Keeping in mind Firsching’s comments, the more colorful giallo elements are few and far between, although intimations of dread and fate provide background noise. As for it having ‘drug film’ elements, that’s a stretch, though we could cite elements of near-cartoonish plot points as kinda druggy.
Strangely, Death Laid an Egg belongs to the 1960s, but is not embedded in that decade. Think of it as one of those old, fabulous Balenciaga gowns that always seem to remind you of something else.