Lord Love a Duck

First there was Andy Hardy, then Dobie Gillis, and then the Beach movies. All followed the lives of independent-minded teenagers. Later, there would be American Graffiti and Happy Days in the 1970s and then the John Hughes films in the 1970s. In between was a low-budget 1966 film called Lord Love a Duck.The 1960s was a hip time, but satire in films was hit and miss. Dr. Strangelove had been a hit, but it was not universal. Cat Ballou, a satirical Western, provided an Academy Award for lead actor Lee Martin. Then there were the spy spoofs, the Matt Helm films, the James Bond Casino Royale, and James Coburn’s The President’s Analyst. All of these films were moderately successful, but terribly uneven in quality.

With the exception of Dr. Strangelove, none of these films aimed very high, or attempted the social bite of Lord Love a Duck.

The film began as a 1961 novel, with the rights purchased by writer George Axelrod and his producing partner. Axelrod was a successful playwright and screenwriter, and he would adapt the book into a film with Larry Johnson. Axelrod would produce and direct, this would be his directorial debut.

Even though Axelrod had never directed a film, he had directed the Broadway plays “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter”, “Once More With Feeling and “Goodbye Charlie”.  Axelrod wrote the screenplays for Bus Stop, The Seven Year Itch, The Manchurian Candidate and Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Paris When it Sizzles – so Axelrod might have been a directing novice but he was a respected writer.

Lord Love a Duck took aim at Southern California culture, much like The Graduate would soon do.  California culture has always been a target for lampooning, from politics to food to fashion to new age philosophies.

From imdb.com, a synopsis of the film:

  • In the psychiatric ward of a prison, Alan Musgrave, who calls himself “Mollymauk” after an extinct duck-like bird, tells his story into a tape recorder. Alan and Barbara Ann Greene are both senior transfer students at Los Angeles’ new, ultra-modern Consolidated High School. Under Alan’s hypnotic spell, Barbara Ann reveals her desire to be popular. Alan assures her that he will make her every wish come true. First, Barbara Ann wishes to join a sorority whose members must each own a designated number of cashmere sweaters, and Alan has her persuade her father to buy sweaters. To keep Barbara Ann from failing any courses, Alan has her use her sex appeal to obtain the job of secretary to the principal. Barbara Ann then meets wealthy and handsome college senior Bob Barnard during a sex seminar at a drive-in church, and she decides to vacation at Balboa, where Bob is to be chaperon. Alan takes her to Balboa, where he sets up a possible screen test for Barbara Ann with a producer of beach-party movies. Bob, who is in love with Barbara Ann, has problems with his zany mother, so Alan installs himself in the Barnard house and takes over the management of Mrs. Barnard by introducing her to alcohol. Mrs. Barnard discovers that Marie, Barbara Ann’s divorced mother, is a bar girl and tries to end the romance. Thinking that she has ruined her daughter’s life and her own, Marie commits suicide. Later Bob and Barbara Ann marry, despite Mrs. Barnard’s objections. Bob, who has graduated and become a marriage counselor, disapproves of his wife’s career in movies, and Alan decides to eliminate him. Bob proves almost indestructible, but by graduation time Alan has put him in a wheelchair. At Consolidated’s graduation, he pursues Bob with a bulldozer, eliminating him and everyone on the speaker’s platform as well. Barbara Ann goes on to Hollywood fame as the star of “Bikini Widow”. In the prison, Alan tries to explain why he did it all, confessing that it might have been for love.
Barbara Ann and her mother.
Barbara Ann and Bob get married, although it will not be a happy marriage. There is a lot of disfunctionality in this film. This is not Ozzie and Harriet, and father did not know best. Barabara Ann’s father (Max Showalter) is a bit of a degenerate, and her mother (Lola Albright) an alcoholic, man-chasing cocktail waitress. Even the high school principal (Harvey Korman is a deliciously leacherous role) is a bit of a perv. High school seems geared toward how to survive the adults around you and navigate adolescent urges.

There is more than laughs here. Beyond the general sadness of these characters’ lives, a distressed Barbara Ann’s mother commits suicide, and Alan runs over Bob with a tractor, to free Barbara Ann from an unhappy marriage. It is a strange mix of a very unusual group of people.

If you have read to this point, let’s spend a moment appreciating Tuesday Weld. She is fantastic in this rather bizarre film. Usually dismissed as more a pretty face than a capable actress, she scored some award-worthy performances in her career, although she will never be confused with Meryl Streep.

Here is my own tribute to the wonderful tuesday-weld.


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