Saturday Editor’s Pick: Lord Love a Duck (1966)

by on September 17, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick


Playing Sat Sept 24 at 4:00 at Film Society of Lincoln Center [Program & Tix]

 

Shame on the Film Society for sticking this underseen curio in a single afternoon slot in their series “American Girl: Tuesday Weld.” It really has to be seen to be believed, particularly the scene where Weld takes her father on a cashmere sweater shopping excursion that is downright orgasmic. More on those shenanigans later, when Dan Callahan profiles Weld for Alt Screen. Stay tuned.

 

In the meantime, Andrew Sarris for The Village Voice:

Lord Love A Duck marks the directorial debut of George Axelrod with a bang rather than a whimper. Not only does Axelrod turn out to be his own best director but his script for Lord Love A Duck is by far the best thing he has ever done. Tuesday Weld, Roddy McDowall, et al and a bevy of blank bikini belles make up the funniest comic ensemble since the palmiest days of Preston Sturges. Comparisons have been made with Dr. Strangelove and Lolita and What’s New Pussycat? and The Loved One, but Lord Love a Duck has them all beat by miles on the laugh meter. In fact, the cavernous guffaws tend to tear apart the flimsy fabric of Axelrod’s satiric conception of sun-kissed Southern California, where even God has been converted to a drive-in. The characters and their jokes tend to transcend even their contexts. For example, spoofs of psychoanalysis would seem to be automatically mirthless at this late date. Nevertheless Axelrod disproves Seneca’s aphorism about there being nothing new under the couch by counterpointing a surly lady psychologist with Roddy McDowall’s impishly innocent Rorschach reactor. From then on, Axelrod consistently hits higher notes of hilarity than Kubrick-Nabokov, Kubrick-Sothern, Donner-Allen, Richardson-Sothern-Waugh, etc.

 


 

Sarris continues:

Part of Axelrod’s advantage is with actors. Tuesday Weld is Nabokov’s grown-up nymphet come to life in a cavalcade of cashmere sweaters, and closer to Nabokov’s original conception that Sue Lyon could ever be. More important than the casting is Axelrod’s affectionate attitude toward this creature of inordinate pride and perversity. If the author identifies more with McDowall’s superior intelligence and industriousness, he shares with his protagonist a longing for the natural grace and beauty of American Girlhood flowing amid the absurd vegetation of materialism and gadgetry.

 

John Landis:

George Axelrod’s unclassifiable satire is one of the oddest Hollywood movies, which over the years has engendered passionate support and derision. For some it’s an incisively bizarre portrait of sixties America, for others it’s a sloppily made, undisciplined mess (with more boom mikes visible in full frame than even Play It Again Sam). However, nothing can dim the luster of the incredibly perverse scene where Tuesday Weld’s horny dad (Max Showalter) practically ejaculates while watching his sexy daughter try on sweaters.

 

 
Geoff Andrew for Time Out (London):

Axelrod’s patchy but often brilliant first attempt at direction: a kooky fantasy, very funny in its satire of contemporary teen morals and mores. McDowall plays a high school student of enormous IQ and fabulous powers, which he exercises in order to grant a pretty co-ed (Weld) her every heart’s desire, starting with the thirteen cashmere sweaters she requires to join an exclusive sorority, and ending with a husband whom he obligingly murders to leave her free to realise her true dream of movie stardom. Whereupon, realising he did it all for love, he ends up in the booby-hatch, happily dictating his memoirs. Taking in some delicious side-swipes at the ‘Beach Blanket’ cycle, Axelrod reveals much the same penchant (and talent) for cartoon-style sight gags as Tashlin, and coaxes a marvellous trio of variations on the American female from Tuesday Weld, Lola Albright and Ruth Gordon. Daniel Fapp’s stunningly cool, clear monochrome camerawork is also a distinct plus.

 

Miriam Bale with some astute observations, for L Magazine:

Lord Love a Duck has been called unidentifiable, baffling and audacious. But the pleasure of the film comes from the confusion and shock of witnessing it for the first time. It’s an interesting puzzle: what is this film, what makes it such a rogue cultural satire? What makes it seem so from nowhere, so ahead of its time? The answer is that it’s behind its time, that it’s actually totally square. Lord Love a Duck, which makes fun of Teenage Beach movies and cashmere sweater wearing girls, was made in 1966. 1966! The early 60s Beach Blanket movies were already parodying themselves by 1965. Tashlin, another frequent point of comparison to Lord Love a Duck, had made the spending-class pop-satire Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (based on a play by Axelrod) in 1957, almost ten years before, and while the Tashlin still sizzles, the Axelrod feels very vintage, trapped in amber.

 

 
Jonathan Rosenbaum for DVDbeaver:

George Axelrod, who wrote the stage comedy that Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? was at least putatively based on, made the first of his two memorable features with this caustic, black and white satire about southern California youth culture in the mid-60s—-a comedy so dark and morbid in its view of sexual hysteria and the American dream that it probably comes closer to approximating the work of novelist Nathanael West than any other movie. (It certainly comes a lot closer than the would-be movie versions of West’s two best and best-known novels–the horrendously compromised 1958 Lonelyhearts and the diluted and sentimentalized 1975 The Day of the Locust—-not to mention the contemporaneous and somewhat better black and white movie about southern California adapted from Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One, released in 1965.)

 

I don’t know anything about the Al Hine novel that Axelrod and Larry H. Johnson adapted for this movie, but there’s no question that Axelrod and his star Tuesday Weld bring their own unmistakable stamps to this special material. One delirious scene in which Weld’s character goes shopping with her father for sweaters is so audacious about sexual and incestuous delirium that one can hardly believe one’s ears and eyes. Among the other fine actors here are Lola Albright (the heroine’s mom) and Roddy McDowell (her Mephistophocles).

 

Pauline Kael:

This satire on teenage culture, modern education, psychoanalysis, and what have you was the best American comedy of its year, and yet it’s mostly terrible. The picture is bright and inventive, but it’s also a hate letter to America that selects the easiest, most grotesque targets and keeps screaming at us to enjoy how funny-awful everything is. Finally we’re preached at for our tiny minds and our family spray deodorants. Tuesday Weld has a wonderful blank, childlike quality as a Los Angeles high-school student who lusts after cashmere sweaters and wants everybody to love her. The director, George Axelrod, drew upon the novel Candy, which he beat to the movie post, as well as WHAT’S NEW, PUSSYCAT? and the Richard Lester movies; there is eating à la TOM JONES and there are other tidbits from all over, even from NIGHTS OF CABIRIA. Roddy McDowall plays a genie; Lola Albright is spectacularly effective as Tuesday’s cocktail-waitress mother; and Ruth Gordon does her special brand of dementia.

 

 

Jeff Stafford for TCM:

In the opening moments of Lord Love a Duck, we are introduced to Allan Mollymauk Musgrave (Roddy McDowall), a possibly deranged high school student who relates, in flashback, his infatuation with Barbara Ann Greene (Tuesday Weld), a beautiful but blank blonde teenager who became a movie star. Barbara Anne’s rise to fame is soon revealed to be the result of Mollymauk’s Svengali-like influence over her. Whenever he jingles a set of keys in her face, Barbara reveals her deepest fantasies and desires; an obvious movie homage to the hypnotism scene in Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (1957). With Mollymauk’s guidance, Barbara Anne climbs the ladder to Hollywood fame via sexual manipulation, deception, and premeditated murder, all set to a catchy pop tune that parodies the types of songs featured in Beach Party movies.

 

It’s true that the women come off better than the men in Lord Love a Duck, even though they are mostly depicted as scheming, self-destructive, or just plain loony. That’s still better than the writer/director’s view of the American male who is represented here by a debt-ridden and incompetent father, a slick and pandering “new age” minister, a mama’s boy, an effeminate high school principal, and the hero of the film – Mollymauk – who appears to be asexual. It’s not a pretty picture but it’s George Axelrod’s world and welcome to it!

 

 

David Sanjek for PopMatters:

George Axelrod’s corrosively satiric Lord Love a Duck is one of the most irreverent and cockeyed films of the 1960s. MGM’s new DVD of the film includes a promotional short in which the writer-director describes his film as a black comedy that crosses Dr. Strangelove (1964) with the uber-conventional family drama starring Mickey Rooney, Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938). This gives some sense of Duck‘s fractured perspective, as do the adjectives “razor-sharp, missile-modern,” but all fail to express the film’s remarkable veering from juvenile sight gags to bleak domestic drama to bitter denunciations of the cult of personality.

 

Throughout Lord Love A Duck, Axelrod treats one social sacred cow after another with amused disdain, skewering religion, motherhood, education, and matrimony. However, the film’s bleak tone is mitigated by its obvious affection for the central characters. Andrew Sarris has remarked, “Tuesday Weld under Axelrod’s direction captured all the sweetness of Nabokov’s Lolita so lacking in Kubrick’s sour direction of Sue Lyon.” If her actions label her a vixen, she’s also a winsome victim, not simply of her own desires, but also of the ambitions deemed the birthright of one and all: happiness and success, no matter what the costs.

 

Watching the film today is no less baffling, but we might also appreciate its challenges to our expectations. As Barbara Ann’s unctuous minister counsels, “Prayers are answered. Because whatever happens, that’s the answer.” Perhaps the lamentable “toy people” in Lord Love a Duck do not deserve the fates that Mollymauk contrives, but the film illustrates, with corrosive wit, how the mindless pursuit of status will be the death of us all.

 

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