Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Lord Love A Duck (DVD)

In a short documentary that comprises the sole special feature on the new DVD edition of Lord Love A Duck, writer-director George Axelrod notes that the 1966 film is "against just about everything: teenagers, their parents, schools, religion, beach pictures, almost anything." In other words, it's a satire, and one that's all the more subversive for taking the innocuous form of a '60s teen comedy. Axelrod described it as a cross between Love Finds Andy Hardy and Dr. Strangelove, and while that's apt, no soundbite can do justice to the scope and breadth of its warped vision. Axelrod's film is full of contradictions and idiosyncrasies: Its brilliant high-school protagonist is played by nearing-40 former child star Roddy McDowall. (He's roughly the same age as Harvey Korman, who plays a middle-aged school principal.) It's a high-spirited, rambunctious pop comedy that, for extended periods, is almost unbearably sad. And it begins as a comedy but ends as a tragedy, though for Axelrod, the two genres seem inextricably linked. Shot in dreamy black and white, the film casts McDowall as a high-school outsider who becomes intent on fulfilling every banal desire of Tuesday Weld, whose white-trash roots keep her from being accepted by Consolidated High's snooty popular crowd. McDowall succeeds in getting Weld everything she wants, but nothing quells the emptiness at the core of her being. A playwright, novelist, and TV and radio writer before he made his directorial debut with Duck, Axelrod wrote or co-wrote two seminal Marilyn Monroe vehicles, The Seven Year Itch and Bus Stop. Weld's character embodies both sides of Monroe's persona: the giggly, breathy sexpot who seduced America, and the tragic, self-destructive depressive who ended her life in an avalanche of booze and pills. In a stunning performance that's both funny and poignant, Weld elevates the dumb blonde to Shakespearean proportions. Nearly every male in the film is ruled by his voracious hunger for her, from Korman to the leering producer of beach pictures like Bikini Widow to Weld's own father, who, in the film's creepiest scene, acts out a bizarre sublimated courtship with her as she tries on cashmere sweaters. The exception that proves the rule is McDowall, whose ethereal character seems above such base human desires as lust or greed. He barely seems to exist at all: He's as much a spirit as a person, a brilliant imp who lives nowhere but possesses the key to everything, both literally and metaphorically. For its first hour or so, Lord Love A Duck cheerfully eviscerates everything in its path: psychology, progressive teaching, fast-food religion dispensed at a drive-in church, and, above all, the materialism and blind conformity of teen life. But in its second half, the film undergoes a jarring tonal shift, slowing from a gallop to a crawl and seeming to forget for long stretches that it's a comedy at all. In the 11 years before Lord Love A Duck, Axelrod wrote or co-wrote The Seven Year Itch, Bus Stop, Breakfast At Tiffany's, and The Manchurian Candidate. In the 37 years between Lord Love A Duck and his 2003 death, he produced little of note, and the film's all-encompassing satire and comic density suggests he might have used up all of his ideas in one place. If so, he went out in a blaze of glory, with one of the weirdest, most brilliant teen movies ever made.


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