Monday, November 10, 2014

The Million Dollar Duck (1971)



          Based on a story by Ted Key, who created the characters Hazel and Mr. Peabody and Sherman, this amiable live-action picture from Walt Disney Productions offers a modern spin on the old Aesop fable about the goose that laid the golden egg. Adhering to the Disney trope of building stories around bumbling professors, The Million Dollar Duck stars Dean Jones as Albert Dooley, a kindly young professor with financial troubles. One day at his lab, a duck that hasn’t proved useful as a research animal wanders out of its cage and into a neighboring lab, where the fowl gets irradiated. Albert takes the duck home, only to discover that the duck now lays eggs made of pure gold. This development delights Albert’s scatterbrained wife, Katie (Sandy Duncan), even though the couple’s son, Jimmy (Lee Montgomery), simply enjoys having a pet. (He names the duck Charley.) Seeing a way out of his fiscal woes, Albert conspires with his buddy, a lawyer named Fred Hines (Tony Roberts), to sell the eggs and make a fortune. Meanwhile, Albert’s next-door neighbor, U.S. Treasury employee Finley Hooper (Joe Flynn), suspects Albert is up to something. Farcical intrigue ensues.
          All of this stuff is completely silly, of course, and The Million Dollar Duck is filled with tomfoolery along the lines of adults sitting on all fours and barking like dogs to make Charley do his trick, since the duck has a phobia about canines. Per the Disney formula, the picture also features a very long climactic chase filled with questionable special effects. (Picture Jones riding the cherry picker attached to a truck, then squealing every time the truck nears an overpass.) Nonetheless, the filmmakers keep things simple in terms of narrative elements, so instead of trying to anthropomorphize the titular critter, The Million Dollar Duck merely depicts what happens when Albert, Fred, and Katie get greedy. Chances are you can guess whether the major characters learn to accept wholesome values by the end of the story. Flynn and Jones provide their usual competent work, while aggressively wholesome costar Duncan, appearing in one of her first movies, makes the most of a trope about her character spewing malapropisms along the lines of “You don’t have to yell at me—I have 20/20 hearing.” Plus, it’s hard to get too stern about a flick that features crusty supporting player James Gregory speaking this unlikely dialogue: “Yes, there does seem to be a certain degree of duck involvement here.”

The Million Dollar Duck: FUNKY

1 comment:

Alan Beauvais said...

The first movie the late film critic Gene Siskel claimed to have walked out on (as a critic).