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Today’s film is a somewhat infamous one. It has notoriously received negative reviews and was was one of only three films that the renowned film critic, Gene Siskel, walked out of in his professional career!
So naturally I had to check this film out! And after getting a request to do so from a reader, Jon H, I felt the time was right! Do I agree with Gene Siskel on this film? Or do I find this to be an underrated comedy? Read on to find out!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
Directed by Vincent McEveety, the film opens up with a pleasing animated opening credits scene popular in Disney films of that era.
We then meet Albert Dooley, played by Dean Jones. He’s a scientist struggling financially to make ends meet. He has a beautiful, loyal, sincere, and incredibly enjoyable, although somewhat ditzy, wife named Katie, played by Sandy Duncan. She is a housewife taking care of the house and her family including their young son, Jimmy, played by Lee Montgomery.
Albert works in a laboratory where they perform experiments on animals.
The experiments he performs are only to test the intelligence levels of multiple animals though. One particular animal that Albert feels has potential is a duck which his boss, Dr. Gottlieb, played by Jack Kruschen, doesn’t have any faith in. Nevertheless, Dr. Gottlieb allows Albert to demonstrate the duck’s prowess, which of course, it fails to do. While Albert isn’t looking, the duck waddles away to another room where it gets zapped with some radiation rays.
Thankfully, no harm comes to the duck and Albert takes the duck home with him until he can find a permanent home for it. Jimmy is a bit disappointed as he always wanted a puppy, but due to their financial situation, couldn’t get one.
Jimmy grows fond of the duck soon though and names him Charlie. But after Charlie lays an egg, we realize that Charlie is actually a “she”.
While the family is happy to eat the eggs, Albert rules it out due to Charlie having been exposed to radiation already. He goes to bury the eggs in the yard at night (so as not to upset Jimmy) when he accidentally cracks one open and finds the yolk to be solid gold!
He’s quite shocked about this as you can imagine and after having some tests run the next day, he discovers that it is indeed gold! Apparently the radiation did something to the duck causing it to lay a gold egg every time it hears the barking of a dog! Albert realizes that his financial troubles are over…until Katie informs him that she gave Charlie away to a local farmer that Albert had recommended!
Albert hurries over to the farmer’s place with his family and offers to buy back the duck (of course, not mentioning its gold-laying quality). The farmer agrees and Albert and his family try their darnedest to find Charlie amongst a pen of a few dozen other ducks. Eventually, they locate Charlie and Albert demonstrates Charlie’s golden egg-laying abilities to his family by mimicking a barking dog. He discovers that Charlie doesn’t lay eggs after hearing any dog bark, but only after hearing a particular pitch of the dog bark.
Albert shares this secret with his lawyer friend and neighbor, Fred, played by Tony Roberts. The two of them decide to partner up and make the most of this gold-laying duck. Fred advises not to mention or use any of the gold yet so as not to raise suspicions until he can get legal matters squared away. Everyone agrees, but Katie starts to notice Albert getting greedy about the gold and losing connections with his family, in particular, his son.
The next day while Albert is at work and Jimmy at school, Katie receives a phone call from the bank threatening her with being arrested as one of their checks bounced. She then decides to use of the eggs in an emergence to pay the debt to the bank only to discover that they don’t believe it’s real gold. And even if it were, it must be refined first before being acceptable as payment.
As you can imagine, Albert’s shocked to hear that Katie has gone to a refinery. But both he and Fred realize that due to Katie’s personality, if she were to go to different refineries to refine the eggs, everyone would assume she was joking if she were to mention that it came from a duck. They then have her visit different refineries as not to raise suspicion. However, suspicions are raised and the refineries start contacting the Treasury Department. It soon lands in the hands of one of the lead investigative heads.
Well, his name is Rutledge in the film, but James Gregory’s character will always be Inspector Luger to me and I shall continue to refer to him as such!
Luger is convinced that this is an underworld gangster-related gold operation wherein the gang members have learned how to make gold.
After discovering the name of the person dropping the gold off at the refineries as Mrs. Albert Dooley, another of Luger’s team, Mr. Hooper, played by Joe Flynn, recognizes her as his next-door neighbor. He starts spying on the Dooleys to discover anything he can about the gold.
Meanwhile Albert gets more and more paranoid about his secret being disclosed as well as trying to find out if the gold egg-laying quality will eventually wear off. He also continues to distance himself from his wife and son.
Mr. Hooper eventually notices the Dooley family barking at the duck and an egg being laid afterwards. He goes back to Luger with this information, but of course, Luger is skeptical. It’s not long though that the rumors of a gold egg-laying duck reach other countries that Nixon gives the command to “get that duck”.
This leads to the climax of the film where Luger and his team head to the Dooleys’ to confiscate the duck, but Jimmy has already run away from home with Charlie not wanting his pet to be put in danger by anyone. Luger’s team chases after Jimmy as do the Dooleys.
The climax ends at a parking garage wherein Jimmy dangles from a wooden plank at the roof of the garage. Seeing his son in danger, Albert finally sees how greed was blinding him realizes what’s important in life and saves his son.
Afterwards in a court trial, Mr. Hooper tries to demonstrate the golden egg-laying abilities of Charlie by barking at the duck. However he’s using the wrong pitch and Albert, wanting to come clean, barks at the right pitch and Charlie pops out an egg. However, the yolk is normal; the golden egg-laying ability has run dry.
The judge lets Albert and his family go as long as they pay income tax on the money they collected. Albert lets Jimmy keep Charlie as a pet and the family is happy once again!
And that was The Million Dollar Duck! Honestly, I’m gonna go against Mr. Siskel and say that I really enjoyed this movie, it’s hilarious! Yes, you can argue that the premise of a duck laying golden eggs is stupid, but aren’t all movie premises about a science experiment gone wrong stupid to some degree or another?
It was way funnier than it should have been and featured enjoyable performances by Dean Jones, James Gregory, and my favorite, Sandy Duncan! Some critics complained that her character was portrayed as being stupid, but I found her enjoyably sweet and always pointing out the truth to her husband when he was too blind to see it and putting her foot down for her son throughout the film!
I mean, Disney has made WAY worse live-action Disney films than this! Herbie Goes Bananas, The Boatniks, Superdad, anyone? I find it hard to believe that THIS was the Disney film that Gene Siskel walked out on! Maybe he just had a bad day or something.
But what can I say? I think this is one of Disney’s better comedy films and would love to see it many more times in my life!
So, my final score for this film is 29/35 = 82.86% (B-) !
The next review will be posted on April 7, 2020.
11 thoughts on “The Million Dollar Duck (1971)”
Thanks for your review, great job! While I didn’t think this was a great film, I enjoyed it more than Gene Siskel. I was transferring my VHS tapes to DVD, and i recorded a lot of these llve action Disney films, including “The Boatniks”, but apparently not this one. I remember recording the opening credits once, but now thanks to YT, I can see the opening there. The kazoos in the opening theme are cute, making the tune fun in a silly way.
As much as I liked the opening credits, I couldn’t get into the whole kazoo sound personally.
Never seen it, but the notion of a modern take on the goose who laid golden eggs is interesting.
I’d say give it a watch. Even if you hate it, well, at least you’ve seen it once, lol!
I will should I come across it. Maybe.
You and I seem to have similar tastes when it comes to Disney. I have been waiting for you to review this film for a while, as this is one of the many live-action comedies I watched when first getting into live-action Disney movies at the age of 12. My little sister always loved it, and some of my fondest memories of my sisters are of watching this with them.
I agree that the film is incredibly silly, but I was always shocked by Gene Siskel walking out on it, as well. It is only an hour and a half long, after all, and it handles the premise very realistically in general. Not to mention it has a talented cast, a genuinely touching message, and an exciting, fun climax (my other sister’s favorite part, and I always loved the George Jetson cameo). I also agree that although Sandy Duncan’s character might be ditzy, she is also one of the most likable characters, and exhibits some of the most common sense when she realizes that Albert’s obsession with the gold is tearing him away from their son.
Some of the comedy can come off as very cheesy, admittedly, though the scene with Hooper getting knocked into his own pool and then being scolded by his wife now has a dark edge to it when you consider that Joe Flynn drowned in his swimming pool in real life only three years after the film was released due to being weighed down by a heavy cast on his leg (“Can’t leave you alone for a minute!”).
I remember meeting a 53-year-old high school principal who was such a big fan of Disney that he had an entire home office decorated in Disney memorabilia. He said that he thought The Million Dollar Duck was “corny” and that the car chase in The Love Bug was better, but when I brought up Gene Siskel’s walking out on it, he responded: “You know what? Gene Siskel was a weirdo. Anyone who would actually buy John Travolta’s disco suit…..”
Yeah, we do seem to like the same live-action Disney films. I’m sorry you had to wait so long before I reviewed this film, but I’m always open to suggestions.
Oh, I so wanted to make a George Jetson joke in this review, but couldn’t think of a good way to do it seamlessly!
Wow, I didn’t even think that when I saw the Hooper pool scene. But now that you mention it, gosh, that’s really dark!
I wanna meet this principal, lol!
Having recently seen it…yeah, I’m just as puzzled on why Siskel walked out on this. Like, what was the thing that was so appalling for him that made him do this? My closest guess would be the people kneeling down and barking at the duck…
I’m with you that I actually enjoyed this film. It’s still your run of the mill Post-Walt live-action Disney film with all the usual elements, but it’s still quite harmless at the very least. The performances are definitely what makes it, everyone got into these roles really well and they pretty much sell the sillinness, and the dynamic between all these characters are quite fun! It was just a solid little comedy!
I totally agree with you! There were way worse Disney films for Siskel to walk out on! And this was one of the better Disney films of the 70s.
Controversial take incoming: I much rather would have walked out on Bedknobs and Broomsticks, than this XD
That is definitely a controversial take!