|In 1966, screenwriter George Axelrod (The Seven Year Itch, The Manchurian Candidate) tried his hand at directing. His first feature, Lord Love a Duck is an extremely dark comedy that doesn't completely succeed in what it sets out to do, but is surprisingly frank for the mid-60's. Subtitled "an act of pure aggression", the film does for teen movies of the 60's what Heathers did for those of the 80's. Axelrod describes the film as being against teenagers, parents, cars, schools, religion, beach movies and just about everything else.|
Roddy McDowell (in his greatest screen role) plays Alan 'Mollymauk' Musgrave, a dangerously intelligent high-school senior who becomes a Mephistopheles of sorts to beautiful classmate Barbara Anne Greene (Filmbrain fave Tuesday Weld). Barbara Anne wants to be a star, and Mollymauk is determined to make it come true, even if it requires mass murder. The performances are top notch, and Weld exudes a genuine innocence that is so vital to the role. The supporting cast (including Ruth Gordon, Martin West, and Lola Albright) also gives it their all, with the exception of Harvey Korman (later brilliant in Mel Brooks' films) who resorts to literally chewing the scenery. The music by Neil Hefti is even better than his infamous Batman theme, and the title song (sung by The Wild Ones) is an infectious bit of psych-pop. Where the film fails is in its story -- while Axelrod's wonderful screenplay contains dialog that's as good as anything else he's written, the story structure is just a bit too episodic, and there's too much of too little. Though his critical gaze extends in many directions, none of the attacks go deep enough. While this might not seem a major criticism, it's what has prevented the film from being universally recognized as one of the great comedies of the 60's. Still, there's quite a lot to like about the film, and Filmbrain has watched it twice in three days. Barbara Anne isn't as calculating as one would expect, and she's the only sympathetic character in this otherwise misanthropic tale. Her desire for fame stems more out of boredom than anything else, and the film is critical of society's unchallenged sense of malaise, and need for instant gratification. The film's final moment, which comes very suddenly, is amazingly effective in that we witness Mollymauk's moment of clarity, forcing us to reconsider what we think and know about him, but by then it's too late -- the credits are rolling.
|Though there are many dark elements in the film, there is one particular sequence that Filmbrain is amazed made it into the final cut. In 1966 there were no MPAA ratings -- films such as this one and particularly Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (also 1966) helped bring about that change. Though no description can compare to actually watching the scene, here's a detailed account with some supporting screen captures. One of Barbara Anne's earliest desires is to be a member of the cashmere sweater club at school. The requirement is to own twelve cashmere sweaters, but Barbara Anne has only an imitation Japanese one made of some modern polymer. Mollymauk figures that if Barbara Anne lays enough guilt on her absentee father (her parents are divorced), he'll buy her the sweaters. The sequence with her father (Max Showalter - the grandfather in Sixteen Candles) begins with the two of them getting worked up into a state of near-ecstasy while wolfing down hot dogs in his car. (What would Freud say?) At the clothing store, Barbara Anne models each of the sweaters for her father, announcing the colors (useful, considering the film is in black and white) which include grape yum yum, pink put-on, and periwinkle pussycat. With each successive sweater her orgasmic moans grow ("Uh! Yes! Yes! Oh god! Yes!") while her father reacts first with maniacal, hysterical laughter, followed by grunts, groans and twisted faces. The scene shifts into a dutch angle, and the final moments consist of quick cuts between the two while the moaning and face contortions continue until the two become one under a pile of cashmere.|
|Filmbrain is not entirely sure what Axelrod was attempting with that scene. The best guess is that it's a criticism of our need to consume and spend, and how the thrill of doing so has become a pleasure on par with sex. Shopping as the ultimate orgasm. But that doesn't change the fact that it's Barbara Anne and her father in the scene. Filmbrain is open to any and all interpretations, and is willing to admit that his imagination may have wandered too far with this one. Lord Love a Duck was recently released on DVD -- and it's well worth checking out. The disc includes a small featurette on the making of the film, narrated by Axelrod, that's nearly as bizarre as the film. Netflix this one - now!|