Blu-ray Review: Lord Love a Duck

STUDIO: Kino Lorber | DIRECTOR: George Axelrod | CAST:  Roddy McDowall, Tuesday Weld, Lola Albright, Martin West, Ruth Gordon, Harvey Korman, Sarah Marshall
RELEASE DATE: 9/22/20 | PRICE: DVD $9.99, Blu-ray $16.99
BONUSES: trailer
SPECS: NR | 105 min. | Comedy | 1.85:1 | monaural

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall 

Teen movies are the phoniest damned things in the world. The idealized adolescence found in them is mercilessly spoofed in the cult 1966 dark comedy Lord Love a Duck, which takes down many other aspects of American life as it tells the story of a teenage girl who kept wanting more.

The plot follows Alan Musgrave (Roddy McDowall, Fright Night) as he becomes a guardian angel of sorts for his new classmate Barbara Ann Greene (Tuesday Weld). Calling himself “Mollymauk,” a magic, birdlike entity, he goes about getting her everything she could possibly want — from popularity in school, to a swinging vacation, a job, a husband, and finally stardom.

The first half of the film is a broad, brilliant satire of the idealized teen life depicted in the movies and on TV in the Fifties and early Sixties. But director/coscripter George Axelrod clearly had a bunch of things in mind when he made the film — thus he presented what seems like a simple teen movie spoof that becomes darker as it moves along, and lampoons some sacred cows, including religion (with a drive-in church) and the American reverence for motherhood (in the form of an overbearing mother, played by Ruth Gordon), before we reach the inevitable conclusion of the picture.

Axelrod was a master at crafting comedies that started out in a cartoonish fashion and then inspired sympathy for the lead characters. He satirized marriage in his scripts for The Seven-Year Itch and How to Murder Your Wife, and the advertising business in the original play Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?But even the films he scripted that were adaptations, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Manchurian Candidate, juggle broadly cartoon-like characterizations with laser-focused statements on the American need for status and success.

Here he openly mocks the notion of popularity among teens via Barbara Ann’s classmates having a “cashmere sweater club” (where each girl must own a dozen brightly colored sweaters); the rituals of making out, scrambling for good grades, and other teenage rites of passage are also lampooned, but Axelrod was ultimately after bigger fish.

The film’s biggest surprise occurs in the last third, in which Barbara Ann’s mother — a cocktail waitress who has to wear a costume with a tail (further spoofing of Sixties trends) — commits suicide. Despite that costume, the great Lola Albright (who starred in an equally melancholy role in the 1961 cult drama A Cold Day in August) beautifully portrays a hard-up single mother who is embarrassed by her station in life — a realistically drawn character who is in the center of an otherwise comedic ensemble.

The reason the film doesn’t derail during the scenes with Albright’s character is because the cast contains fine performers who are able to make this realistic portion of the film (where things are dark, but there is no humor) work so well.

Mostly thought of as a light performer, McDowall is a sublime Mollymauk. He could be a truly magical individual — but is really just a lovesick teen who will give his intended whatever she wants. The fact that McDowall and the other high schoolers in the cast are clearly adults (McDowall was in his late 30s when the film was shot) is another layer of intentional satire aimed at the odd nature of teen movies. This is brought home beautifully in a scene where Barbara Ann and Alan encounter a “Beach Party” movie producer who openly admits he knows nothing at all about teenagers, as he sits on a yacht spying on teens with binoculars.

Tuesday Weld clearly relished playing Barbara Ann, a character that was her goodbye to the sexpot roles she played as a teen. Weld was a most unique performer whose work as a teen actress (including a memorable run on the TV series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis) led to a spate of terrific adult performances that attracted her a strong cult following. Her unconventional behavior in her private life and seeming “war” on the notion of stardom only served to strength this reputation.

Lord Love a Duck was a turning point for her, as it laid to rest her “jailbait” screen persona (she was 22 when the film was shot). The truly troubled aspect of Barbara Ann is underscored in the scene where she finds out her mother has overdosed on pills. At this moment the film switches gears, and Barbara Ann is revealed to be less a brat than an all-too-real young woman who wants popularity (“Everybody has got to love me!”) because she’s embarrassed about her home life and alienated from her fellow teens.

Adding to the mix are top-notch supporting performers who give broadly drawn comic performances: Harvey Korman (TV’s The Carol Burnett Show) is the business-like (but thoroughly sleazy) high school principal; Ruth Gordon (Rosemary’s Baby) plays Barbara’s Ann’s clinging-vine mother-in-law; and Max Showalter contributes an unforgettably weird and creepy turn as Barbara’s Ann’s dad, who takes part in the film’s best-remembered scene, where the girl tries on sweaters in front of her father, who chuckles, chortles, and makes a series of almost obscene grunting noises. (Axelrod truly did lace his social satires with strychnine at points.)

Lord Love a Duck does savagely trash the homespun American culture of the Fifties and early Sixties. With the anarchic character of Mollymauk, though, it prefigures the counterculture of the late Sixties and one of its prime movie metaphors — the crazy character who is saner than the authority figures (think King of Hearts and Morgan) and is bound to ultimately lose the battle he’s fighting against “civilized society.”

Buy or Rent Lord Love a Duck

About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”