Flo & Eddie’s “Dirty Duck”: “A Sprawling Undisciplined Piece of Sniggering Vulgarity”

By on April 20, 2015

Down and Dirty Duck — released under the abbreviated title Dirty Duck — is a raunchy hour-long X-rated animated film directed by Charles Swenson, who had asked producer Roger Corman to provide financial backing so he could make his handdrawn animated feature; apparently Corman was a little stingy with the funding, providing only $110,000, which is why the film was originally titled Cheap!, and marketed the movie under the title Roger Corman’s Cheap!

DIRTY DUCK 8
(It was Corman himself who — realizing the title was a crack about his low-budget productions — asked that the title be changed.)  Dirty Duck -- which saw limited release in 1974 — has a somewhat convoluted and yet simple plot: it’s basically about a lonely Walter Mitty-ish insurance company drone named Willard Eisenbaum, who gets annoyed by the various petty irritations that are part of his daily office life and begins to have wild sexual fantasies about the new secretary, Susie He’s sent out to investigate a claim filed by Painless Martha, an aging tattoo artist, who works in a prison, who believes in a Ouija board message saying that she will be killed by a wizard on a Tuesday.

DIRTY DUCK 11
DIRTY DUCK 1

When Willard tells her that the insurance company won’t pay until her death, she dies of a heart attack. Her will stipulates that her killer must take care of her duck. After the duo spend a night in jail, the duck takes Willard to a brothel. After a wild night of partying, they wind up in the desert, where the duck dresses Willard in women’s clothing in an attempt to get a ride. After several encounters with an old prospector dying of thirst, a racist police officer, two lesbians, and a short Mexican man, they are finally picked up by a trucker.

DIRTY DUCK 7

Back at his apartment, Willard creates a makeshift sex object, which the duck eats. Shortly after, Willard discovers that the duck is a girl, and has sex with her. The following morning, Willard and the duck go to Willard’s job, where Willard has sex with his female boss, and quits his job shortly after. Willard and the duck leave, and the movie ends with Willard saying that the duck was a good duck after all.  Swenson did all of the animation himself, although publicity attributed the animation work to the Murakami-Wolf Production Company.

DIRTY DUCK 3

The storyline was created mostly by Swenson, and voiced by Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman (better known as Flo & Eddie), the wonderful actor Robert Ridgely (who appeared in a lot of films and TV shows, but might be best known as The Colonel in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights). Additional voices Walker Edmiston, Lurene Tuttle, Cynthia Adler, Joëlle Le Quément (as Janet Lee), Jerry D. Good.

According to the film’s ending credits, Kaylan, Volman and Ridgely and, in Swenson’s words, “nearly everyone I came in contact with during the production of this epic” all share credit for additional story credit. There’s even a little nod to Lenny Bruce’s Thank You, Mask Man, which had come out in 1968.

Dirty Duck is memorable for many reasons, including Swenson’s surreal and abstract sequences (hand-drawn/cut animated scenes over collages), but mostly for its offensive, highly sexual, satirical and slapstick tone, which was apparently wasn’t for everyone, even in the early 70s, when people were a little more open-minded.

DIRTY DUCK 2

The director and the voice actors/musicians — pretty much everyone involved — knew the animated feature they were making would offend the easily offended, and they even clued the viewer to this fact during the film’s first musical number, where we hear Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (aka Flo & Eddie) singing: “Well, this is a cheap little movie, and I am a cheap little guy / I’m going to abuse your eardrums, I’m going to make fun of your eyes / This whole movie is a great big hunk of shit, YEAH!!! / But I’m glad to be with it, and I’ll probably be a part of it…OH YEAH!!”

There are many connections here to Frank Zappa that’s more than evident to further you explore is connections.

FLO & EDDIE

To begin with, Volman and Kaylan not only sing the songs, but they provide the voices of a strait-laced blue collar worker named Willard and an unnamed duck, among other characters. Jim Pons and Aynsley Dunbar (who provides voices) also perform with Flo & Eddie on the songs — they were all members of the Mothers of Invention, who split up in the wake of Zappa’s injury, due to a crazed fan that attacked him onstage in London in 1971.

Suddenly, Kaylan and Volman found themselves a record deal with Reprise Records, in 1972, using the names they’d given themselves for Zappa’s Mothers of Invention group, due to the fact that they were contractually unable to use their own names, or any part of the name Turtles.

And so they became The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie — the actual nicknames of two of the Mothers of Invention road crew — which they later shortened to just Flo & Eddie. Their debut LP failed to chart, but they continued releasing albums, including the more successful Flo & Eddie (1974), and — after the release of this film — Illegal, Immoral and Fattening (1975), most of which comes from live concert recordings, including three songs that first appeared in the soundtrack to Dirty Duck.

Back to Zappa: Dirty Duck was made by the same company that co-produced Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels (you may remember Swenson’s contribution, the Dental Hygiene Dilemma cartoon, which is one of its highlights) and there are references to 200 Motels throughout. In fact, the duck is roughly the same character that Jeff Simmons morphed into in 200 Motels. The duck says, at one point, “You can’t do this to me! I was at Woodstock in ’69. I saw “200 Motels”! I know who I am!”

DIRTY DUCK 6

When Willard and the duck are lost in the desert, Willard asks the duck how he became a duck, and Volman answers that he “used to be a Turtle, but that wasn’t too happening,” so he got “some advice from his Mother” and “just sort of flowed (a pun on Flo from Flo & Eddie from there.”

Finally, during their conversation a huge caricature of Frank Zappa rises like the sun over the horizon. Hereupon Willard says: “Oh, Eddie, you have GOT to be kidding,” referencing Zappa’s song “Eddie Are You Kidding?”

New World Pictures had not actually submitted it to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and knowing that the X-rated feature wasn’t being reviewed favorably, they didn’t go out of their way to get it screened (it only played in New York City for about two weeks).

Meanwhile, the New York Times refused to run the film’s ad in its pages, even though there was a positive review from their movie.

DIRTY DUCK 10

Dirty Duck received mostly negative reviews, however, with many critics blasting it for its crude humor, while others could not get past the fact that it reminded them of Ralph Bakshi’s Fritz the Cat, although the fact that they’re both raunchy animated cartoons are really the only similarities.

Animation historian Jerry Beck originally wrote a review in which he called the film “raunchier than Ralph Bakshi.” He went on to say that the humor of the film “is good, but the design and drawing is downright awful. It seems to be sort of a cross between Jules Feiffer and Gahan Wilson, if that can be imagined.” Beck also stated that the film was “very similar to R. Crumb Mr. Natural and Flakey Foont. There is no reason that the duck should be a duck. Every character in the film is human, and he just seems to be a duck just to give the film a catchy title. There are some highly imaginative animated ideas here, but the film’s entertainment value is at a minimum.”

He later called the film “one of the most overlooked animated features of the 1970s, a glorious experimental mess of a film, which, from today’s vantage point, looks incredibly creative and daring, and something current Hollywood studios would never attempt.”

DIRTY DUCK 4

Other memorable negative reviews said that Dirty Duck “has no socially redeeming value” (Playboy), and Variety commented that the film “has little to recommend.”

Our favorite, though was Charles Solomon of the L.A. Times, who called it “a sprawling undisciplined piece of sniggering vulgarity that resembles nothing so much as animated bathroom graffiti. [The film is] degrading to women, blacks, Chicanos, gays, cops, lesbians, and anyone with an IQ of more than 45.”

DIRTY DUCK 12

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.