Monday, June 26, 2006

Periwinkle Pussycat

As far as meaningless milestones go, 40th anniversaries don't have the cachet of 50th or 25th anniversaries, so I doubt anyone will be making a big deal of the fact that this year marked the 40th anniversary of the movie Lord Love a Duck. Still, it's an anniversary worth noting.

It was the first film directed by writer George Axelrod, who was best known for writing the play The Seven Year Itch and as producer and writer of The Manchurian Candidate. His work tended to be satirical and cynical, up to a point; in a script like How to Murder Your Wife (which he did the year before Duck), he would go as far as he could with the cynicism about modern life and society, but stop short of actually condemning them. With Lord Love a Duck, he stopped stopping short: this is a movie that expresses corrosive, uncompromising hatred for just about everything.

The story of a bored SoCal high school blonde (Tuesday Weld) who wants to be a star, and the weird young man (Roddy McDowall) who takes it upon himself to make all her dreams come true (though it takes him until the very end of the movie to understand exactly why he's doing it), Duck is described in a promotional featurette as "a cross between Love Finds Andy Hardy and Dr. Strangelove." You could say that Duck is the ancestor of all those indie movies where the director trashes the genre to which the movie purportedly belongs: Axelrod makes Duck sort of look like a mid-'60s teen comedy -- though it would have worked better if it had been shot in colour -- and then proceeds to condemn teen comedies, teenagers, grown-ups, consumerism, religion, sex, and various other things I'm forgetting at the moment.

Axelrod screened a Godard movie for the crew before he started shooting Duck, and he proceeded to make it one of the first Hollywood movies to really show the influence of New Wave filmmaking. Some directors had picked up on the obvious gimmicks, like jump cuts, but Axelrod really made the first Godard-style Hollywood movie, with all the jarring shifts in tone, distancing effects, and crazy tricks (like having the title sequence include behind-the-scenes footage of the crew shooting the movie) you would expect if Jean-Luc were to helm a Tuesday Weld movie.

The most famous scene in Lord Love a Duck, and one of the most tasteless moments in the history of movies, is the scene where Barbara Ann (Weld) tries on cashmere sweaters for her father (Max Showalter). Barbara Ann needs cashmere sweaters to get into the in crowd in school, and on the advice of the McDowall character, she is more or less seducing her father into buying them for her. This scene cuts out the "more or less" part: Barbara Ann's modeling of sweaters is treated as a sex scene for her and her father, with the both of them shrieking orgasmically over the wonders of consumer goods.

Filmbrain has a good post on what makes this scene so very, very wrong.


Thad K said...

Nice disturbing piece from Hollywood history. I love it.

- Thad

Kenny said...

Wow. Even after reading the description, that went so much farther than I expected.

Darth Versluys said...

You know, it took me about five seconds to get the real meaning of your phrase:

"His work tended to be satirical and cynical, up to a point; in a script like How to Murder Your Wife (which he did the year before Duck)"

For a second I thought "wow, he really WAS dark! Maybe this is more interesting than I thought!", but then I realized you were just writing about the movie. Ah well.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

Then I realized you were just writing about the movie.

And who says I was writing about the movie...?

(Okay, I was. But you're right, it's more interesting if it's something other than my clumsy turn of phrase.)

Robert said...

Interesting about Axelrod screening a Godard film before the production - when I first saw LLAD on television and on VHS, I thought that seeing the booms and other personnel in the shot was part of the intent -- only to learn years later that it was due to improper masking... the DVD corrects that.

I've burned my VHS dub to disc, although I do have the DVD... somehow , I like the improperly masked version better - it adds a little something to the viewing experience.

Anonymous said...

...Wow. I'm horrified.