Million Dollar Duck

Million Dollar Duck. Walt Disney Productions 1971.

Before watching the movie:

There’s a tendency for the family comedies Disney made in the 50s-70s to blend together, unless they reached you early enough to trigger nostalgia. At this point, it’s hard to say if that’s the classics rising to the top, or one generation passing their nostalgia to the next.

This is not one of the well-known ones. At least, I only learned about it by finding it on a shelf. It stars Dean Jones, but so does almost every movie Disney made back then. Disney’s stable of reliable actors reminds me these days of the contract system of the Golden Age of Cinema, where actors contracted to do so many movies of whatever kind they were assigned to with the same studio before they were free to leave or renew their contract, which also created a kind of repertory effect.

After watching the movie:

Albert Dooley is drowning in debt and working in animal intelligence research with a duck that defies sense and fails even the most basic test so hard it breaks it. Unbeknownst to Albert, when the duck escapes the lab and wanders across the hall, it gets exposed to some vague kind of radiation before the techs catch it and return it to him. Rather than let the lab exterminate it as useless for the study, Albert brings the duck home with the idea of selling it, only to find his son Jimmy, who was begging for a puppy, instantly bonds with it, and names it Charlie. “Charlie” turns out to not only lay eggs on a reflex when the nasty neighbor Mr. Hooper’s dog barks, but when Albert accidentally breaks one, he discovers the yolks of every egg Charlie lays are made of gold. His lawyer friend immediately swoops in to offer legal assistance for the venture of making money off the golden eggs in exchange for a full partnership, but urges that Albert not make any big purchases until everything is legally protected. But when Albert’s wife Katie needs to pay off some bad checks and sells a gold yolk, word gets around fast that there’s some strange new, possibly artificial gold being passed around in the area, and the Treasury Department is vitally interested, especially Treasury agent Mr. Hooper, even as greed threatens to tear the family apart.

This is essentially just a silly modern version of the Golden Goose table. Which is a story the characters are just as aware of as we are and so are almost as skeptical as we would be. Only instead of killing the goose, the duck becomes more important than the emotional needs of the family. Everyone in the know is demonstrated to be a hypocrite at some point, telling each other to stick to old principles they then fall to follow. A light morality plot serving a wacky tale about waterfowl.

I was definitely amused by the way the major antagonists are basically just trying to keep the world economy stable and jumping to panicked, hyperbolic conclusions, but all that mainly serves to lead to a very long chase sequence I’m not sure the story needed. Elaborate slapstick chases were pretty much obligatory for Disney at the time, but it certainly didn’t need to be this long. I’m also not clear what was actually illegal about what was going on, though with Order and Control on the line, the government will usually find something.
This is probably somebody’s nostalgia, but for me, it’s just a silly bit of fun, like most live action movies from the Disney family fun factory of the late middle of the century. It works, but it’s nothing great.

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