Movies

The Time Has Come To Talk About The Powerfully Weird 1971 Disney Film, ‘Million Dollar Duck’

The 1971 film Million Dollar Duck is all of the following things:

  • A movie about a duck who begins laying eggs with solid gold yolks after a mishap at a research facility
  • A movie marketed to children that also requires a somewhat advanced knowledge of the international financial markets
  • A movie in which a fictional Richard Nixon shouts “get that duck!”
  • A movie Roger Ebert called “one of the most profoundly stupid movies I’ve ever seen” in the first sentence of his review
  • A movie that is now available on Disney+

The time has come to talk about Million Dollar Duck.

1. The plot of Million Dollar Duck goes something like this. Albert Dooley (Dean Jones, veteran of Disney movies and also Kelly Kapowski’s grandfather in Saved by the Bell: Hawaiian Style) is a research scientist in a facility that runs various animals through mazes and puzzles to test their intelligence. Through a truly preposterous set of circumstances that I’ll describe in a minute, a duck gets blasted with radiation and develops the ability to lay golden eggs. Chaos ensues. Albert and his lawyer develop a crazy scheme to get rich, his Treasury Department bigwig neighbor gets suspicious, an international crisis develops, and a father and son bond before the father is hauled off to prison. At one point a dog chases the duck down a water slide. It is a profoundly, powerfully weird movie.

2. But how, I assume you’re asking. How does a duck develop the ability to lay eggs with golden yolks? I’m glad you asked. It all starts with applesauce. Disgusting applesauce, prepared by Albert’s wife, that contains garlic and seeds and lord knows what else. Albert brings it to work and throws it away and a chimp fishes it out of the trash and feeds it to the duck. The duck likes it. The duck is also terrible at the tests, which infuriates the cranky old scientist in charge, who a) hates the duck with the fury of 100 bubbling cauldrons, and b) is my favorite character in the movie by such a large margin you’d need a telescope to see the person in second place.

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Cranky Scientist literally picks the duck up and heaves it out of the lab after it fails another test, at which point the duck waddles into the radiology lab and gets zapped with large doses of x-rays. Perhaps you think I’m exaggerating. I am not. Here, look at this.

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Why anyone would leave the door open while radiation-related tests are happening, I don’t know. I’m sure the cranky scientist has his reasons. The important thing here is that Albert takes the duck home to be a pet for his son and soon learns that it now lays the golden eggs as a result of the applesauce/radiation combination. I am not making this up. It’s incredible.

3. Less incredible, on the other hand, is the character of Katie Dooley, Albert’s wife, played by Sandy Duncan. Katie Dooley has the intelligence of a rock. Not even a particularly bright rock, either. It’s wild. This is an actual thing she says while preparing the godawful applesauce that helped nuke the duck’s insides.

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A whole chunk of the plot revolves around the men using her to cash in the golden eggs because she’s so dumb that people just laugh when she says a duck laid them. It’s almost too stupid to be offensive. Almost. I’m not even sure I can explain how bad this is. She’s a grown woman with the comprehension skills of a toddler. Sandy Duncan deserved better than this.

4. Math time. As Albert’s lawyer explains before going money crazy and becoming a sleazeball, each golden egg is worth about $900. By his calculations, they can make about $100,000 per day because the duck lays an egg every time it is barked at by a dog or a human pretending to be a dog, which is very odd and largely unexplained and something I probably should have mentioned earlier. Anyway, the point here is twofold:

  • The price of gold was about $43 per ounce in 1971, which means that each gold egg weighed a little over a pound, which means that this poor duck was carrying around dozens of pounds of gold in its abdomen all day
  • At the current valuation of gold ($1,465 per ounce), each gold egg would be worth about $30,000 in 2019, which, if they’re operating at this ludicrous 100 eggs per day pace, works out to over $3 million every day

A million-dollar duck isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion-dollar duck. I suddenly want to see the Aaron Sorkin version of this movie. It’s not like he can do worse by Sandy Duncan than these writers did.

5. All of this raises the suspicions of the Dooley’s neighbor, a Treasury Department higher-up named Mr. Hooper, who hates the Dooley’s as much as the Cranky Scientist hates the duck. (Actual line of dialogue: “I wish this fool next door made enough money that I could investigate him.”) Does this lead to him snooping in a tree with binoculars in a way that makes his wife think he’s creeping on Mrs. Dooley? Of course. Does he then try to convince the Treasury Department that a duck is laying golden eggs? You know it. Does this immediately lead to a racially insensitive montage of world leaders finding out about the duck and an international financial crisis developing? I mean, why wouldn’t it? I can’t stress this part enough: This is a movie about a magical duck that starts laying gold eggs after an applesauce/radiation snafu and it also features a surprisingly in-depth depiction of global financial markets and diplomatic relations. Ponder that for a bit.

6. Here is a fictional President Nixon demanding that the Treasury Department find the magical gold-producing duck.

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I… no. I do not need to add anything else here. It is objectively hilarious.

7. So, look. You see where this is going. Albert’s son, Jimmy, gets upset that his dad is caring more about his pet duck than him. He takes the duck and flees the house just as the Treasury Department shows up. What follows is a mad chase through Washington D.C., with Jimmy in a glorified go-kart driven by local teenage hippie rascals Orlo and Arvin Wadlow, Albert swinging around on the extended ladder of a speeding telephone truck, and… oh, who cares? The chase ends with Jimmy and the duck stranded on a ladder between two tall buildings…

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… and Albert saving them before they both tumble to their bloody deaths, which would have been extra gruesome considering all the gold that duck is carrying in its loins. Jimmy would have been absolutely pancaked.

8. Albert gets arrested after all of this because hoarding gold was still illegal in 1971 (it’s true, I looked it up and everything). He is then given the fastest trial in the history of the judicial system later that day, during which the judge gets the duck to lay an egg and cracks it on the bench, and — surprise — it’s a regular egg because the radiation has worn off. Not guilty, whee, everyone goes home. But not until the judge looks at the duck and says, and I quote: “You know, for a useless creature, you sure caused a lot of trouble.” Everyone hates this duck so much. All it ever did was eat some applesauce and waddle through an open door. Leave the duck alone. She’s doing the best she can.

9. Do you want to hear the craziest part? Crazier than a duck eating applesauce and getting blasted with radiation and causing chaos worldwide with golden eggs? Crazier than Richard Nixon ordering the United States government to confiscate a duck in a children’s movie? I know, it seems like an impossibly high bar to clear. How could anything be crazier than that?

I’ll tell you. The two leads of this movie, Dean Jones and Sandy Duncan, the latter of whom, again, played a character that was so empty-headed that it’s a miracle she didn’t fall into a sewer multiple times in the first act, were both nominated for Golden Globes. Actual awards! For Million Dollar Duck! The movie about a duck that lays golden eggs! Dean Jones was up against Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka! Sandy Duncan was up against Cybil Shepherd in The Last Picture Show!

I might never stop laughing about this.

10. In conclusion, here is a GIF of Hooper’s dog chasing the duck up and down a water slide. You didn’t think I’d mention that in the beginning and never pay it off, did you? Come on.

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