Suicide State

“We don’t divorce our men; we bury them,” instructs Stella Bernard, played by a loony Ruth Gordon, in Lord Love a Duck (1966).  That’s certainly better social policy than America has pursued since 1970, with no-fault divorce shattering families.  No custody battles.  No brawls over alimony and child support.  No kids shuttled back and forth between mom and dad.  No family-court trauma.  No false accusations of spousal and child abuse.  Just a funeral.

The line is one of the many delights of a surprisingly prophetic film that bombed when it came out, but now enjoys a cult following.  It seems unlikely James Burnham saw it two years after his Suicide of the West was published.  And it’s doubtful the filmmakers and actors read Burnham.  But the movie might be retitled Suicide of California, Followed by America.

Seen today, Duck is practically a documentary of the social breakdown of the West, played out in the Southern California sunshine to a rock ’n’ roll beat.  Based on a 1961 novel of the same name by Al Hine, it was the first of only two movies directed by George Axelrod, who also co­wrote the screenplay.  He’s best known for writing The Seven Year Itch, The Manchurian Candidate, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and...

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