The Million Dollar Duck (1971)


USA. 1971.


Director – Vincent McEveety, Screenplay – Roswell Rogers, Story – Ted Key, Producer – Bill Anderson, Photography – William Snyder, Music – Buddy Baker, Photographic Effects – Eustace Lycett, Makeup – Robert Schiffer, Art Direction – John B. Mansbridge & Al Rolefs. Production Company – Disney


Dean Jones (Albert Dooley), Sandy Duncan (Katie Dooley), Joe Flyn (Finlay Hooper), Tony Roberts (Fred Hines), Lee Harcourt Montgomery (Jimmy Dooley), James Gregory (Rutledge), Jack Kruschen (Dr Gottlieb)


At Albert Dooley’s animal behaviour research lab, a duck accidentally wanders into the neighbouring radiation laboratory where it is irradiated by scientists experimenting on a new fuel. Dooley takes the duck home as a pet for his son Jimmy. They are startled to find that it lays eggs made of gold. This proves the solution to the family’s financial problems, but also brings them to the attention of an officious neighbouring Treasury Department official who determines to discover their secret.

The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) was the template for the Disney live-action comedy. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Disney created a series of other benevolently eccentric mad scientists and put them through various wacky adventures in the likes of the Merlin Jones and then the Dexter Reilly films. Increasingly though – particularly with some of the latter entries such as this and The Barefoot Executive (1971) featuring a chimpanzee that can predict which tv shows are going to be hits – the ideas that stretched the gags together became thinner and thinner one-note jokes.

There is not much to the idea of a film centred around a duck that lays golden eggs – there are many similarities to the British comedy Mr Drake’s Duck (1951), which was about a duck that laid radioactive ducks. To its credit, The Million Dollar Duck at least maximises the slapstick potential inherent in the idea. Some of the scenes are amazing when one considers what they must have put the dignity of the performers through – Dean Jones having to go down on his knees to perform dog barks, or scenes with he and Tony Roberts chasing ducks through a pond. In familiar Disney fashion, everything climaxes in a slapstick chase sequence – the one here involves dune buggies and Dean Jones swinging around on the end of a speeding cherry picker.

The film is reasonably well cast. By now, having been typecast as such over the course of several other Disney films, Joe Flynn had perfected the role of the uppity tightass bureaucrat. Sandy Duncan plays with airheaded appeal in the familiar role of the dizzy but perfectly subservient Disney housewife. A reasonably lively level of energy is maintained and in all The Million Dollar Duck gets respectable mileage out of an essentially daft idea.

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