Building Entertainment: The films of the Walt Disney Studio. The Million Dollar Duck

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: The Million Dollar Duck

Year: 1971

Box office: $5.1 million

Plot: Scientist Albert Dooley struggles to pay the bills. His wife, Katie gets a recipe for applesauce wrong and gives it to her husband to take to work for lunch, hoping it will help cut down on the budget. In a humorous chain reaction, the duck Albert is testing steals the applesauce after Albert has thrown it away in the trash and then wanders into a radiation lab and becomes irradiated. Albert is ordered to get rid of the duck, so he figures he can give it to his son, Jimmy who has been wanting a pet, only to discover it now lays eggs with solid gold yolks.

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In a Pavlovian manner, the duck, named “Charley,” lays an egg when prompted by the barking of a dog. At first, the only ones who know of Charley’s golden yolks are Albert, Katie, Jimmy and Albert’s friend, Fred, but as they sell the yolks of gold, they gain the attention of a suspicious neighbor, a government bureaucrat from the U.S. Treasury Department named Mr. Hooper. Hooper spies on the Dooleys in a haphazard manner, often suffering a mishap such as falling off a tree branch after being yelled at by Mrs. Hooper to leave the neighbors alone. However, Hooper sees a golden yolk laid firsthand, with Fred and Albert celebrating.

Hooper warns his boss Rutledge about the economic upheaval. Although Rutledge doesn’t believe Hooper at first, a series of nationwide phone calls among politicians spreads rumors, culminating in Rutledge getting a phone call from President Nixon to “get that duck!” Albert becomes greedy and no longer cares for his son, which saddens Jimmy. The Treasury Department officials soon arrive at the house and order the family to turn over the duck. Jimmy, watching from upstairs, climbs out the window with Charley and then rides off with a couple of teenage boys and their hot rod as the government officials try to seize Charley.

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Jimmy is then suspended on a ladder between two parking garages and Albert attempts to convince his son to grab his hand before the ladder falls. Jimmy tells his dad to go away, believing he only wants to save Charley, but when the ladder begins to break, he grows fearful and realizes that his dad is there to help. Right before the ladder falls, Albert saves Jimmy. Immediately afterwards, Albert is arrested for owning gold as a private citizen. The family ends up in court and the judge breaks an egg into a glass after Mr. Hooper and then Albert barks at the duck to prompt the laying of the egg, which surprisingly turns out to be an ordinary egg yolk, as the effects of the radiation had worn off. The judge dismisses the charges, as there is no proof of the duck laying golden eggs, and Albert tells the family that the golden duck was nice while it lasted, but at least they can keep the duck for their pet, now realizing that his family is more important than wealth. The judge remarks to Jimmy “If that duck ever lays another golden egg…bury it quick!”

Cast: Dean Jones, Sandy Duncan, Joe Flynn, Arthur Hunnicutt, and Bryan O’Byrne all return

Tony Roberts as Fred Hines. His Broadway credits include Barefoot in the Park, How Now, Dow Jones, Murder at the Howard Johnson’s, Promises, Promises, Sugar, The Sisters Rosensweig, They’re Playing Our Song, Victor/Victoria, The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, Arsenic and Old Lace, Cabaret, and  Xanadu. Films include  Annie Hall, Play It Again, Sam, Radio Days, Stardust Memories, Hannah and Her Sisters, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Serpico and Just Tell Me What You Want. James Gregory as Rutledge. He is known for playing Sen. John Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate,  General Ursus in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and Frank Luger in Barney Miller. He also appeared in PT 109, the Matt Helm film series, the episode “Dagger of the Mind” of Star Trek, and Clambake.

Lee Montgomery as Jimmy Dooley. He had a starring role in Ben. He made appearances on television series such as The Mod Squad, Columbo, The Streets of San Francisco, Kojak, Adam-12, Emergency!, Marcus Welby, M.D., The Mary Tyler Moore Show, CHiPs, Family Ties, Hotel, Fame, and Dallas. He appeared in films such as Split Image, Night Shadows, Into the Fire, The Midnight Hour, and Girls Just Want to Have Fun.  Jack Kruschen as Doctor Gottlieb. His performance as neighbor Dr. Dreyfuss in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment  earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Other film roles included  The War of the Worlds, The Buccaneer, The Angry Red Planet, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, Lover Come Back, McLintock!, Follow That Dream, Cape Fear, and Money to Burn.

Jack Bender as Arvin Wadlow. He best known for his work as a director on Lost, The Sopranos and Game of Thrones. As an actor, Bender guest-starred on All in the Family, The Bob Newhart Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Bing Russell as Mr. Smith. Best known as Deputy Clem Foster on Bonanza and Robert in The Magnificent Seven. He guest-starred in episodes of many television series, including Playhouse 90, Highway Patrol, Wagon Train, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, The Loretta Young Show, Johnny Ringo, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, The Rifleman, Maverick, Zane Grey Theater, Route 66, Rawhide, Ben Casey, The Untouchables, Hazel, The Andy Griffith Show, The Twilight Zone, The Donna Reed Show, The Munsters, Combat!, Branded, The Fugitive, The Monkees, I Dream of Jeannie, Ironside, The Big Valley, Death Valley Days, Adam-12, The Virginian, Alias Smith and Jones, The Mod Squad, Mannix, The Rockford Files, The Streets of San Francisco, Emergency!, and Little House on the Prairie.

Critical Reception:

  • Million Dollar Duck was one of three movies that film critic Gene Siskel walked out on during his professional career, the other two being the 1980 horror film Maniac and the 1996 comedy film Black Sheep.
  • Roger Ebert described the film as “one of the most profoundly stupid movies I’ve ever seen”.

My take: Well this film is an absurd premise, and Sandy Duncan plays probably the dumbest character ever. I remember seeing this as a kid

Available on Disney +?: Yes

Next Week: The Biscuit Eater