Friday, April 8, 2011

Feathered, Not Stirred

Sleep pattern shot. Up at all hours. Daylight savings meaningless. Write, drink, read news reports. So much suffering. Endless corruption and lies. Immediacy makes it unreal. Anxiety. Sadness.

Time for Everything's Ducky!

Released in 1961, Everything's Ducky pairs Mickey Rooney with Buddy Hackett, the unlikeliest comedy team since Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante. The boys play hapless sailors stuck on a desert missile base, their military careers at a dead end. One day their commander orders them to release a lab duck into the wild. Soon the sailors discover that the duck, Scuttlebutt, can talk, so they plot betting schemes to make their fortune (Scuttlebutt successfully negotiates for a third of the cut).

Problem is, Scuttlebutt's a martini addict, and when drunk he screws up the boys' plans. He also reveals knowledge of a secret equation for a new missile guidance system. Once the Navy brass finds out, they want to remove Scuttlebutt's brain. Rooney and Hackett play interference, trying to save the duck's life.

I won't give away the ending. It makes no sense, but considering the overall film, to be expected. Rooney and Hackett are energetic, working routines so flat, so obvious, so bad they earn your respect. They really want us to believe they have chemistry, but the half-baked bits undermine them. It's sad that the film's rich premise generated such lazy writing. The entire plot revolves around a smart-ass alcoholic genius duck. You can't write decent jokes for that?

Yes, a talking drunk duck is gold in itself, so the temptation to let the image carry the story is great. Clearly it was yielded to here. And yet Everything's Ducky is fascinating and funny to watch. The cast (filled with period character actors like Richard Deacon, James Millhollin, and Alvy Moore, who was later Hank Kimball on Green Acres, a show that knew how to write for talking animals) plays this absurdity absolutely straight. But the real meat is Scuttlebutt, played by veteran voice man Walker Edmiston.

Edmiston's Scuttlebutt sounds like a cross between Edward Everett Horton and Hans Conried. He even throws in a brief Cary Grant impression. Despite this, you end up rooting for Scuttlebutt. You don't want the Navy to chop off his head and scoop out his brain. You might want to drink with him, though after a couple martinis Scuttlebutt gets loud and obnoxious. Then again, how often do you get loaded with a duck? Especially one who knows advanced calculus?

Given deepening human madness and environmental chaos (at least to us), it's soothing to know that at one moment in time, professional adults gathered to make a movie about a talking, booze-swilling duck. The result could have been better -- hell, in sharper comedy hands, it would be a classic -- but knowing that Everything's Ducky exists blunts some of life's sting. May Scuttlebutt stay buzzed in Happy Hour heaven.