Roddy McDowall Games Tuesday Weld’s World in Teen Satire Classic.
DIRECTED BY GEORGE AXELROD/1966
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: SEPTEMBER 22, 2020/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
Hey hey hey hey! This motion picture is an act of pure aggression. It tells us so right in its own tagline. It’s its own kind of whackadoodle bunny trap; a unique marching band marching to its own beat without a drummer in sight.
With Lord Love a Duck (1966), renowned screenwriter-turned-director (if only for this one of two films) George Axelrod (writer on The Manchurian Candidate, Breakfast at Tiffany’s) turns his distinctly 1960s perceptive towards the younger set. You know, the happenin’ youth scene.
It’s the senior year for Barbara Ann (Tuesday Weld, glowing) at the glaringly white and nausea-inducing, utterly generic Consolidated High. High school life has given her everything and nothing, her accomplishments all amounting to dust in the wind. Restlessness sets in, as none other than Roddy McDowall manifests as a poison-talking devil on her shoulder.
In the actuality of Lord Love a Duck, he’s supposed to be Alan “Mollymauk” Musgrave, a snapped outcast who’s “gone sane” in an insane world. The sheer insularity of pointless conformity, vapid celebrity worship, and social status and physical appearance as the arbiter of one’s worth have driven him to brink, reducing him to a cawing, crazed outcast. The Powers That Be Powerful give chase but cannot catch.
To Barbara Ann, though, Alan is her devious lifeline, her spirit animal, her chaos agent of choice. (Is he even “real”? Apparently. But, really??). He will guide her to getting just what she wants, gaming the system with a sly smile and a song. That song, though, is always, always, always the same. Hey hey hey hey!, it goes. And then it goes from there… over, and over, and over again. Freeze frames and flip-nut logic abound as everything is enslaved to the beat. Quite delightfully, no indignation, piousness or pandering beach movie will emerge unscathed. It’s a comedy.
Axelrod, in his obvious quest to tap the rollicking youth culture zeitgeist of the moment, calls upon the anarchistic spirit of Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night and Help! But diversity of the musical playlist is where he draws the line. Instead, he’s perhaps pushing his critique one step even further as he reduces all of rock n’ roll to a single ubiquitous anthem, “Lord Love a Duck” by The Wild Ones. (Jim Jarmusch did something weirdly similar in his offbeat zombie comedy The Dead Don’t Die, as a single song called “The Dead Don’t Die” proved deathly inescapable).
McDowall, securing top billing (though this movie belongs squarely to Weld), gives a full-on maniacal performance, delicious in its cunning. At age thirty-six at the time of filming, there’s no dodging the fact that Lord Love a Duck is a teen satire where certain said teens are twice the age they’re reported to be. Chalk it up to that systemic incongruity that Axelrod is mercilessly poking at. In a world where sweet talking one’s own estranged father in the interest of getting a baker’s dozen of designer cashmere sweaters to gain entrance into an elite girl’s group is the path to victory (Weld’s gross strategy, by Alan’s suggestion), the kids are most definitely not alright. Who sells out? Who’s next?
Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ new Blu-ray edition sees the HD debut of this uncompromising counter-culture classic. The take-it-or-leave-it greyscale veneer of the thing is well represented, as is the sonic-scale it cobbled together back in the day. No extras, no commentary, just a bunch of trailers are what you get. But for those who love this notoriously dark ugly duckling of a time capsule, the movie is all that is needed.