Tag Archives: Roddy McDowall

CAPSULE: LORD LOVE A DUCK (1966)

DIRECTED BY: George Axelrod

FEATURING: Roddy McDowall, Tuesday Weld, , Lola Albright

PLOT: From his prison cell, preternaturally wise high schooler Alan Musgrave recounts his efforts to transform bubbly teenager Barbara Ann Greene into a star, as well as the insanity and destruction that trailed his efforts along the way.

Still from Lord Love a Duck (1966)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Lord Love a Duck is an angry satire, casting aspersions on the modern obsessions of society alternately with a raised eyebrow and a hoarse scream. This can manifest in odd ways, from sarcastic jabs at timely fads to a blatant disregard for internal logic. It’s plenty strange, but at this point in our listmaking, the end product is ultimately too disjointed to work well, even on its own terms.

COMMENTS: Lord Love a Duck is the kind of movie that makes you pity marketing executives. Faced with a story that calls out America as a place of grotesque ambition and blithe idiocy, particularly in the form of its teenagers, the promoters clearly decided to lean into the thing that the movie purports to loathe, namely a wacky teen sex comedy. Which, to be clear, Lord Love a Duck is decidedly not.

How else to explain hiring George Axelrod, the screenwriter behind the acidic thriller The Manchurian Candidate, to transplant Al Hine’s novel about witless Iowans to that famed black hole of self-obsession, Hollywood? Axelrod wastes no time in savaging the misguided priorities of this society, starting with a high school that resembles a bank office tower and taking aim at every entity it can find. Basic school subjects are renamed to sound easy-going. The police are whiny and needy. The only movies this movie-drenched culture makes have the word “bikini” in the title. The local house of worship joyfully proclaims itself “The First Drive-In Church of Southern California” (a thinly-veiled swipe at the real-life progenitor of Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral). Our world is morally bankrupt, this movie says. Look upon thy works and despair.

If this sounds more like a dark tragedy than a goofy farce, Lord Love a Duck‘s response is, “Why can’t it be both?” The film’s tone swings between extremes: the same motion picture that puts Barbara Ann and her estranged father in a taboo-teasing, orgasmic fantasy of fruit-themed cashmere sweaters has no problem turning around and watching the girl’s mother spiral downward into drinking and suicidal depression. This cinematic whiplash applies to characters, too: Martin West’s Bob, whom Barbara Ann will marry in a misguided burst of sexual desire, declines from sly allure to misplaced uprightness to outright blissful incompetence. (“He’s a total idiot,” says his own mother.) Lord Love a Duck is whatever movie it needs to be in the moment, logic or continuity be damned.

By all rights, this should be Barbara Ann’s movie, especially given Tuesday Weld’s powerhouse performance. We are given an early clue to her character when she tells Alan that she fears switching to a new high school will destroy her hard-won popularity and status: “Everybody has got to love me,” she pleads, both fierce and desperate, and without the obviousness that could easily accompany the line. But her character shows very little agency in feeding her insatiable lust. No, that all falls to Alan, who promises to fulfill her every desire, and schemes to deliver.

Which leads to the strange hole in the center of the movie: Alan, or as he alone calls himself, Mollymauk. What does it mean to cast 36-year old Roddy McDowall, with his lilting English accent and prissy demeanor, as the smartest kid in high school, conqueror of muscle-bound quarterbacks, outwitter of adults, and ostensible sole voice of reason in a vulgar world? (And why always white pants?) The cognitive dissonance of his casting is magnified by the utter vacancy of his character. Alan is impossible: plotting blackmail against the principal, installing himself as a resident in Ruth Gordon’s house, establishing “inadvertent” connections with Hollywood producers. He’s a walking deus ex machina, able to supply whatever is needed to advance Barabra Ann (and the plot) forward. And for what? He seeks no personal gain, gainsays his own confession, and even manages to go back and graduate high school after years’ worth of action has transpired. If we hadn’t seen him interact with others (and possibly murder four people), he might easily be mistaken for her Tyler Durden. As it stands, Alan is a cipher, the supporting character somehow sitting at the film’s center.

Some satires are missiles, homing in their targets with precision and righteous anger. Lord Love a Duck is a grenade, spraying shrapnel anywhere and everywhere it can reach. The rage is real, but impotent. The filmmakers want you to be as angry as they are at the state of this pop culture-obsessed world. And like Barbara Ann, who ends the movie with a fame of dubious quality and longevity, they have no idea what to do once they’ve gotten what they wanted.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“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…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.” – Nathan Rabin, The A.V. Club

(This movie was nominated for review by Joseph. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

KAPOW! ZLOPP! TOUCHE! THE BEST OF “BATMAN” (1966-1968), PART TWO

Part 1 of the Bat-series.

On 30 , March 1966, ‘s Riddler returned for “Ring of Wax” (directed by James Clark, written by Jack Paritz and Bob Rodger). The local wax museum is supposed to be unveiling a wax figure of Batman. To the crowd’s horror, that loathsome lithe Riddler is on display instead, and up to his usual atrocious anarchy with a stupendous squirter, spewing crimson crud all over the Gotham gang. Of course, he leaves a pair of baffling riddles behind. In his cauldron of corruption, Riddler concocts a wax that burn its way through any vault in the world, sending him to the local library (!), where he is accompanied by a striped dayglo duo and a purple leather-clad villainess named Moth (Linda Gaye Scott). She’s one in a series of Gorshin’s increasingly bizarre disciples (in “A Riddle A Day,”  Riddler was followed by a girl who talks like a mouse and a trio of henchmen wearing a rainbow of primary colored hoodies, one of whom is the yellowed bug-eyed cheese munching stooge). The Riddler’s inexplicable entourage makes him all the more absurdly frightening. We get such a kick watching Gorshin’s bouncing, blithesome histrionics that the only disappointment is NOT getting to see him lay waste to the Dynamic Duo. However, he does get to stop them in place with “Dr. Riddler’s Instant Forever-Stick Invisible Wax Emulsion,” AKA spray-on superglue.  Escaping with a book on a lost treasure of the Incas, Riddler and his gang head back to their candle factory, where Batman and the Boy Wonder are tied up and lowered into an enormous cauldron. “Will Batman wax serious? For the sake of our heroes, let’s think positively!!! But it looks bad! Very bad! How can we wait until tomorrow night.. same bat-time… same bat-channel !!?”

Their escape in Part Two (“Give ’em the Axe”) is among the series’ most preposterous, and the battle with henchmen hits a garish high, all of which translates into camp delight. When Moth tries to flirt her way out of jail, Batman waxes chaste: “A moth that plays with fire is bound to be burned.” Needless to say, Gorshin owns both episodes.

“The Curse of Tut/Pharaoh’s in a Rut” (directed by Charles Rondeau, written by Robert Dennis and Earl Barret) aired on the 13th  and 14th of April, 1966. “A giant Sphinx is uttering demented threats in Gotham Central Park in a woman’s voice!” “Holy hieroglyphics, this might mean a battle royal” with King Tut (Victor Buono), of course. “Maybe this sphinx will give us a clue!” Tut surrounds himself with 1960s Egyptian babes (including Zoda Rodann as a coney dog eating Nefertiti) and henchmen (including busy character actor and B-Western regular Don Berry), whom Tut dismisses Continue reading KAPOW! ZLOPP! TOUCHE! THE BEST OF “BATMAN” (1966-1968), PART TWO

LIST CANDIDATE: CULT OF THE DAMNED [AKA ANGEL, ANGEL, DOWN WE GO] (1969)

DIRECTED BY: Robert Thom

FEATURING: , Holly Near, Jordan Christopher, Charles Aidman, Lou Rawls, Davey Davison,
PLOT:  The travails of Beverly Hills-born Tara Nicole Steele, whose mother is a famous film star still trying to remain in the spotlight and whose father (Charles Aidman) is a closeted homosexual. When she returns home for her debutante party, she falls under the influence of a charismatic rock singer and his band mates, and the influence spreads to the entire household.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: One of the lesser known products of the culture clash of the Psychedelic 60’s with Old Hollywood, Angel is a sweaty Tennessee Williams fever dream/soap opera on acid, and would make a decent double bill with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls—and give it a run for its money.

COMMENTS: There’s just no description for Angel, Angel, Down We Go, other than to call it another raw look into the (twisted) brain of Robert Thom, writer of Wild in the Streets, Death Race 2000, and The Witch Who Came from the Sea, among others. Angel is the one time that Thom was in the director’s chair, having direct control over his material.

Angel was soundly flogged by critics and ignored by the general public when first released in August 1969, but when the Manson Family made their debut at roughly the same time, the film was given a second go-around under a different title, Cult of the Damned, in hopes that audiences would flock to the carny show. Audiences didn’t, critics still flogged the film, and it fell into obscurity, not even getting a home video release until February 2015. There were some satellite-TV screenings in the 80’s and on Showtime, and it streamed on Netflix (often getting confused with Guyana: Cult of the Damned). The movie gained a small cult of devotees who managed to catch the rare screening or who saw it during its initial run. While the title Cult of the Damned hints at lurid Mansonesque goings-on in upscale Beverly Hills, there is no cathartic massacre of demented hippies tearing down the social order at the end of the film. The original Angel title is more in line with the film’s tone, which is violent, but is mainly emotional/intellectual violence.

Angel would seem to be part of that slew of films made in the late 60’s where Old Hollywood, trying to stay relevant to audiences, collided, J.G. Ballard-style, with the New Counterculture (Valley of the Dolls, The Big Cube, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Myra Breckenridge). It also partakes of the subgenre where a charismatic individual wreaks havoc on a ‘normal’ family (Teorema). It even goes further by actively incorporating aspects of avant-garde/underground film and theater, further exaggerating the camp of Hollywood melodrama. Imagine if some studio had hired to do a narrative feature film.

According to Paul Green’s “Jennifer Jones: The Life and Films,” Angel originally derived from a 1961 play of Robert Thom’s, repurposed as “A far out version of The Green Hat kind of play about a wild girl heading for destruction… a present day type of F. Scott Fitzgerald heroine.” That fits with reading the film as a demented fever dream of its main character/unreliable narrator, Tara Steele (Holly Near): child of neglectful parents and victim of emotional (and quite possibly, sexual) abuse, whose psychology is visualized via a Robert Rauschenberg/Martha Colburn type of collage created by artist Shirley Kaplan.

One can go on about the flaws of this film—and many have—but the main flaw is oddly the thing which makes it fascinating. Angel is overstuffed with themes which occur throughout Thom’s work: the fascination/repulsion with Old Hollywood (The Legend of Lylah Clare, The Phantom of Hollywood), the jaundiced look at the youth culture (Wild in the Streets), the effects of emotional and sexual abuse (The Witch Who Came from the Sea). It’s as though he decided to put in as much as he possibly could, since he was finally directing. The film never registers as being out of control, however; Thom’s direction is very deliberate and he gets excellent performances from the cast.

Recently released on Blu-Ray by Scorpion Releasing/Kino-Lorber (under the Cult of the Damned title), the film has an excellent presentation for home video, including a very informative and insightful commentary by film historians Nathaniel Thompson (from Mondo Digital) and Tim Greer. One quibble is the lack of subtitles;  the film is very dialog-heavy, with a lot of melodramatic word play that you might miss the first time. Subs would definitely help follow the theatrical dialog.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Confusion reigns in this sick film about Hollywood decadence.”–TV Guide