Dirty Duck/Review 2
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Ah, seventies counter-culture animation... it was a genre entirely unto itself.
Who knows how prolific this particular genre of animation would have been if it hadn't have been for a fairly popular comic strip character created by Robert Crumb named Fritz The Cat? Crumb's raunchy character caught the eye of animator Ralph Bakshi (American Pop, Cool World), who saw the opportunity for an immense cult following in the character, and thus turned it into one of the most widely recognized X-rated animated features ever made. In an era where pornographic movies were shot on filmstock and were actually considered a legitimate form of cinema, it's hardly a surprise that Bakshi's 1973 feature film version of Crumb's character made such a splash.
While Crumb would eventually go on to disown the film and Bakshi would continue making more of his signature counter-culture animated films, a flood of imitators were hung up on trying to cash in on the successful adult nature of Fritz the Cat (to mostly limited results). These imitators even included a lesser known follow-up to Bakshi's film, entitled The Nine Lives of Fritz The Cat, which he had absolutely nothing to do with. One of the slightly better known of these imitators, though, was director Charles Swenson's ode to the adult, Dirty Duck.
The crux of the Dirty Duck's plot is fairly straight-forward and concerns a meek insurance agent named Willard, who is desperately in love with a new co-worker that won't give him the time of day. His boss gets sick of his constant pining over this woman, so she sends him out to check on a claim involving the death of a medium. The medium hasn't really died yet, but has foreseen her own death and decided to get a jump on things early, not knowing that Willard will inadvertently be the cause of her demise (thanks to some mixed signals from the afterlife, I suppose). When Willard shows up, he does bring about her passing and in her final death throes she bequeaths her talking duck friend to him.
It is with the introduction of the talking duck that the film begins to take a decidedly trippier bent with its story. Taking Willard on an adventure that involves impromptu jail time, a run in with lesbians, and forty foot tall cops who don't like ethnicity, the duck teaches him to open up more and live life to the fullest. Amidst all the bizarre sights and sounds that Willard is subjected to, he finally does awaken to the fact that there is more to life than meets the eye and eventually breaks free from his shell, seeing everyone (including the girl he was in love with) and everything for what they truly are.
Despite the interesting Bedazzled-like nature of the story, the film (like all imitators) severely lacks any real redeeming qualities. Most of the film plays out like one would need some pharmaceutical enhancement to truly enjoy it, making the story dull and uninvolved for anyone who doesn't partake in that lifestyle. There are all kinds of drug-induced images strewn throughout that would send your average LSD user into a hysterical frenzy, while most of the jokes seem aimed at frequent marijuana smokers. An attempt at Bakshi's irreverent social commentary is also here, but none of it seems to strike chords quite as solidly as his films did. In fact, by the film's end, I wasn't really sure what the filmmakers were even trying to say (and I seriously doubt that they knew either). What the audience is ultimately left with is a film that has a lot to look at but very little to say.
Sadly, the only thing the film is really good for is just to see what the cast and crew had done before and after this project. The producers of the film, Murakami Wolf, were responsible for the eighties re-incarnation of "Alvin and the Chipmunks", as well as the animated TV version of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's popular comic book "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles". In keeping with the turtle theme, the voices of several characters, as well as all of the music in the film, were performed by Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, who were both members of the band The Turtles (and also worked with Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention and started their own band, Flo and Eddie, after the Turtles broke up). The most surprising post-Dirty Duck work, though, is reserved for writer/director Charles Swenson, who has worked on the popular Nickelodeon show "Rugrats" (though only on one episode). It's kind of strange to envision that someone involved with such an acclaimed children's show would have once been responsible for such an odd mess.
Dirty Duck has been released on DVD through New Concorde. The film is presented in the full frame format and the print that the transfer was taken from is visibly damaged. There are moments where the image is muddled as well, making for a lackluster viewing experience. Extras on the disc are limited to biographies, a trailer for this film, and trailers for a handful of New Concorde's other DVD releases. Fans of seventies counter culture animation should stick to the work of people like Ralph Bakshi, but the few who are adventurous enough to be completists should find enough here to catch their interest.
Review by Pockets of Sanity