Skullduggery (1970 film)

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Directed by Gordon Douglas
Produced by Saul David
Written by Nelson Gidding
Based on Les Animaux dénaturés by Vercors
Starring Burt Reynolds
Susan Clark
Roger C. Carmel
Music by Oliver Nelson
Cinematography Robert C. Moreno
Vincent Saizis
Edited by John Woodcock
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date
  • March 6, 1970 (1970-03-06)
Running time
105 minutes
Language English

Skullduggery is a 1970 American science fiction film directed by Gordon Douglas, produced by Saul David, and stars Burt Reynolds, Susan Clark and Edward Fox.

The screenplay is based on the French novel Les Animaux dénaturés (1952) (variously titled in English as You Shall Know Them, Borderline, and The Murder of the Missing Link) by Jean Bruller (writing under the pseudonym "Vercors").


On an expedition in Papua New-Guinea, Tropis, a tribe of apelike creatures, are being used as slaves by humans. When one of the Tropis is allegedly murdered, the following murder trial centres round the question: are the Tropis a form of human or animal. The question is a form of the Sorites paradox.



In an interview with Tom Weaver, screenwriter Nelson Gidding related the convoluted history of the film. Giddings showed the original novel by Jean Bruller writing as "Vercors" to Otto Preminger with the idea of making a film of the book. After they viewed a play based on the novel presented in Carcassonne, Preminger agreed but later became busy with other film projects. The rights to the novel were sold to producer Saul David after he left 20th Century Fox. The film was to have been the first major feature film production of ABC Pictures with the film crew planning on shooting in Papua New Guinea where an Australian Army General who Gidding had known in World War II provided extensive cooperation to the production.

One of the producers from ABC Pictures wanted to talk to David about the film at short notice as he was flying to Europe. David refused to meet him due to the medical problems of David's daughter that precluded a meeting, however David refused to tell the producer why he would not see him. Thinking himself insulted, the producer placed the film on hold with the production of the film being purchased by Universal Pictures who insisted the film be shot in much safer and economical Jamaican locations. On the first day of shooting David sacked his director Richard Wilson and replaced him with Gordon Douglas who directed David's In Like Flint.

After casting Burt Reynolds and Susan Clark, Karl Malden expressed interest in playing the role of Otto Krebs that the screenplay described as a fat man. David thought Malden too thin and hired an actor he thought was corpulent, Roger C. Carmel but was dismayed when Carmel arrived on location having slimmed down for the role.[1]

Producer Saul David created and named his character of Berle Tanen after then-MCA executives Berle Adams and Ned Tanen.[2]

Burt Reynolds later said the film had a "good script. The guy's a good writer, Lorenzo Semple Jr. Badly directed, kind of sloughed off. Susan Clark was good; she's a good actress. But nobody knew how to sell the picture. Any time you have Pat Suzuki dressed as a small ape, I think you're in trouble."[3]

Further reading[edit]

  • Vercors (1953), You Shall Know Them, translated by Rita Barisse, Boston: Little, Brown.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ pp.69-72 Weaver, Tom Nelson Giddings Interview in I Was a Monster Movie Maker: Conversations with 22 SF and Horror Filmmakers McFarland, 16 Jun 2001
  2. ^
  3. ^ Workaholic Burt Reynolds sets up his next task: Light comedy Siskel, Gene. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 28 Nov 1976: e2.

External links[edit]