The Beat’s Gregory Paul Silber has been accused of having a bit of an… obsessive personality. Each week in Silber Linings, he takes a humorous look at the weirdest, funniest, and most obscure bits of comics and pop culture that he can’t get out of his head.
For this week’s Silber Linings, we made Greg watch Howard the Duck. You’re welcome, America.
Gregory Paul Silber: Hi Kaplans! Thanks for joining me for this special May the 4th edition of SILBER LININGS, as we watch the film that is universally considered George Lucas’ masterpiece: HOWARD THE DUCK.
Now, I’m a huge fan of the original Howard the Duck comics by writer Steve Gerber and artists like Gene Colan, which is why I’ve been hesitant to watch this film that quite famously disregards most of what made that comic as beloved as it is. Also, it’s just generally considered one of the worst films of all time. But clearly you two are fans. You’re watching this on the DVD that you own! Can you tell me a bit about your histories with Howard?
Ollie Kaplan: I’m Ollie Kaplan, Contributor at The Beat. I’ve seen Howard the Duck at least ten times. Read the Zdarsky and Quinones comics a couple times, and the Gerber comics once (but about to read them again). Skrull Kill Crew all the way!
Avery Kaplan: I have seen the movie about as many times as Ollie has (since we were usually watching together), & I am a huge fan of Lea Thompson (who should be allowed to direct the next Howard movie). I’ve read the same runs Ollie has but a few more times. I haven’t read any of the magazine or the Max run, though! Also earlier today I read that issue of She-Hulk where she & Howard are in the flying town car.
Ollie: Oh I read part of the Max run (we have a few issues).
Silber: I have to revisit that Zdarsky/Quinones run (I read a few issues and enjoyed them but fell off), and the Max run is high on my list too. But as for the movie itself, I genuinely can’t tell how ironic your appreciation is. Is it a misunderstood masterpiece, or does Lea Thompson’s presence just make a bad movie a watchably silly experience?
Ollie: Beverly Sizzles!
Avery: I would bet dollars to donuts that the majority of people who “hate this movie” have never watched it. And for the record, this is easily Lucasfilm’s most watchable movie starring a puppet. And that includes Anakin Skywalker.
Ollie: It really is egg-cellent.
Greg: That’s interesting, because my untested theory is that Howard might be comparable to my beloved Batman and Robin, a film that’s landed on so many “worst movies ever made” listicles that more people experience it as a meme than an actual movie.
Avery: think you’ll find Howard hits closer to that than you’d expect. But also… duck boobs. Prepare yourself for some duck boobs.
Greg: How does one prepare for duck boobs?
Ollie: Also, a good movie. Luda better dress-up as Uma. (Hint to Grant Morrison.) I prefer a couple of martinis. WAUGH!
Greg: Well I don’t have any vodka handy so I think I have no choice but to dive in as I am. Wanna count us off and get started?
Ollie: Yup! 3, 2, 1…
Huyck and Katz auditioned a number of actors including John Cusack, Robin Williams and Martin Short for the voice of Howard.
Avery: Short could have just played him!
Greg: Martin Short actually sounds perfect.
Ollie: OK wikipedia also compared this to Tatooine, and I’m going to say it: this movie is better.
Greg: Who is the voice here?
Ollie: Jeffrey Jones From Amadeus.
Avery: This is when Howard was trapped in a world he may have contributed to making.
Greg: I have NEVER fully understood that slogan.
Avery: Breeders of the Lost Stork sounds fantastic…
Greg: These duck puns are also quite Batman and Robin.
Ollie: Does he eat those fish?
Greg: I would think so?
Avery: Splashdance, HA!
Greg: I gotta say: this puppetry is pretty charming.
Ollie: Beaks are pretty sexy.
Avery: Pretty rough to have an origin story that involves reading duck porn…
Greg: It’s wild that there was a time—even after the introduction of PG-13!—that you could have porn jokes in a PG movie.
Ollie: And duck boobs Howard goes all the way down through the cosmos.
Greg: Yes! Now PG just means like, one fart joke.
Avery: Is this part narrated by Swamp Thing?
Greg: Or Man-Thing!
I don’t really understand the instinct, even among 80s movie punks, to meet a talking duck and immediately start bullying him rather than marvel at the literal miracle.
Avery: Imagine this being your introduction to our planet…
Greg: “Satan’s Sluts” is the name of the all woman biker gang.
Ollie: Good thing he has pants on or I would think this was a Donald the Duck.
Greg: Legally though, Marvel can now show Howard without pants, right?
Avery: They probably could, but they changed Chewie’s name to Goose for the Captain Marvel movie, so I don’t know if they trust us to tell two ducks apart.
Greg: You know what, fair.
This would probably be hard for most people to believe, but the quack-fu issue of Howard is actually pretty great.
Avery: Oh yeah, Quack-Fu! From issue three, right? Nice.
Greg: Cartoonishly 80s Lea Thompson is PRETTY cute.
Ollie: She wanted to look like Madonna.
Greg: Oh, that’s a no brainer now that you mention it.
Ollie: Also, love the Cherry Bomb reference to The Runaways.
Avery: At least the beers are bigger on Earth.
Ollie: Also, when she auditioned she wore stuff from a thrift store… smart move.
Greg: This might be the only non-Back to the Future role I’ve seen her in.
Ollie: Caroline in the City is good.
Avery: To be fair BttF is like, 4 roles.
Ollie: I had that Godzilla toy.
Greg: Honestly, the change from being a model in the comics to being an aspiring pop star here is not a major change. This isn’t the Howard I know and love but she’s a recognizable Beverly.
Ollie: AH! TOO CLOSE TO HOME! Advertising COPYWRITER!
Greg: Howard is basically me. I too am a copywriter and often feel like I’m on the wrong planet.
Avery: Trapped in a world he’s grown accustomed to!!
Greg: Solid memoir title candidate.
Ollie: Well, it works out pretty well for him in the Beverly department.
Greg: If there are any women reading this who might be described as a “Beverly Switzler type” feel free to reach out. Or a “Lea Thompson type” for that matter.
You know, it’s really striking how quickly the plot is moving. Much like a Bronze Age comic in that way.
Avery: You can really see why they stuck Phil here in Shawshank, huh? Hold on to that “quick moving plot” thing for act three.
Ollie: Pop Phil, the Duck Collector.
Greg: Psst… I still haven’t seen The Shawshank Redemption. Only read the original Stephen King short story.
Ollie: This looks like it was filmed in Denver. Might have to look that up afterwards.
Greg: I like this casual hoodie and sweatpants look for Howard.
SHE SAID THE LINE! [“You’re trapped in a world you never made.”]
Greg: This unemployment office scene is… nauseatingly Reagan.
Avery: And yet this hot tub club is entirely Clintonian!
Rebecca: I feel like this would be R today.
Greg: Is this a brothel? HOW IS THIS RATED PG
Avery: Why don’t people like this movie? It’s great!
Greg: Is that poop?
Ollie: OK, this is all I can find on filming locations and the website is very 80s.
Avery: I assume it’s a mud bath…
Ollie: Maybe it’s a bath house.
Greg: You know, there actually was a band called Cherri Bomb. They were on the Avengers soundtrack.
Ollie: It was the first hit by The Runaways, right?
Greg: I mean, that was probably their point of reference, but who’s to say they weren’t massive Lea Thompson fans?
Ollie: How can you not be? It’s like not being a fan of Natalie Portman.
Greg: How much do you think this movie’s cocaine budget was? I’m guessing a lot.
Avery: Howard is kind of a slut, huh.
Greg: Honestly though even though the comics aren’t explicit with it, I feel like he would be. And hey, more power to him.
I feel like I’m getting away with something watching Lea Thompson in this scene.
Ollie: Seriously. Apparently Lea Thompson still has the Les Paul guitar, which is named “Cherry Bomb.”
Greg: Love that for her!
Ollie: Also we got the voice actor wrong, it’s Chip Zien.
Greg Silber: Are they… are they going to have sex? Is a lady and a duck going to have sex in this family movie?
Ollie: Oh yes, she is married to Howard.
Greg: “This relationship defies all the laws of nature” he is not wrong.
Ollie: OK, I’m really into figuring out the casting info now: “In July 2021, actor Chip Zien, who voiced Howard, revealed in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter for the film’s 35th anniversary that Robin Williams was originally cast for the role. But Williams quit after only a week out of frustration over syncing his voice to the duck’s animatronic bill. An actor to voice Howard had not been cast yet during filming, so all of Howard’s lines were read on set by the puppeteers, and the bill moved to fit their bland delivery. That made it impossible for Williams to use his wild improvisational style in post production because it didn’t work with the bill movements. The producers immediately called Zien, who had previously auditioned, and told him he had the part but needed to fly to California that night.”
Greg: Wow, so that would explain why Howard sounds so bland here. Let Robin Williams be Robin! Come on now.
Ollie: And obviously, Jeffrey Jones is Dr. Walter Jenning.
Greg: Yeah… the less said about Jones being an actual creep IRL the better.
How are we barely halfway through this movie? So much has happened!
Ollie: This is climax material.
Greg: I was just thinking earlier today about how when we talk about “pacing issues” it usually means the pace is too slow, but I do think the pace is WAY too fast here. There’s no time to process anything and let characterization breathe.
Avery: Wellll they’re almost to the diner. It’ll slow down.
Greg: I’d have preferred Doctor Bong as this film’s villain.
Avery: Maybe Hellcow will be the villain in the next one.
Greg: Honestly though my ideal Howard the Duck movie would adapt the all prose issue where Steve Gerber just kvetched about his life for 20 pages.
These action sequences are kinda tacked on, no?
Avery: Hey, you wanted slower pacing! Hairless monkey paw curls one finger…
Greg: Oh no
Ollie: The Dark Overlord is apparently based on Thog the Nether-Spawn, Overmaster of Sominus.
Greg: I don’t remember that so I’m definitely due for a reread.
Ollie: I saw it when I was looking up the voice actor. Should be easy to find. It said that’s who sent Howard to Earth.
Greg: At times it feels like this movie was given a huge budget and they were just making up excuses to use it.
Greg: So many car chases!
Ollie: That reminded me of Men in Black.
Avery: If only they had a glider chase…
Greg: In some ways this feels like a prototype for things MIB would go on to do better.
Ollie: LOL Also these white sushi chefs… Am I missing something? Or is that odd?
Greg: Oh no it’s definitely weird.
Avery: It was Cajun “Sue-shi,” like they had recently rebranded.
Greg: Oh. Uh, of course.
Ollie: OMG yeah. Thanks Avery! Also, the jacket looks like it was a reference for the one Joe Quinones designed for Beverly in Howard the Duck, and then for Lea Thompson on Dancing with the Stars. I do like this glider chase. And I like the romance. Although she could totally get out of that binding.
Greg: Yeah this movie has some leaps in plausibility for sure.
Ollie: LOL as she does it.
Avery: What part of this movie is implausible? Who among us has not met a child-sized talking duck in Ohio!
Greg: Hey Joe, since you’re editing this and live in Ohio: how many talking ducks do you meet on a daily basis?
Ollie: 1 billion talking ducks?
Greg: Conservative estimate.
(Editor’s Note: I’ve never met a talking duck in Ohio, but maybe I just haven’t been to the right part of Ohio yet. – JG)
Ollie: Surprising number of Marvel references.
Greg: The makeup is pretty good. Jeffrey Jones is unrecognizable at this point.
Ollie: I don’t remember Thog at all. I guess he blasts Hellfire.
Avery: I think they did a good job utilizing the special effects they had, considering.
Ollie: They considered puppetry, but decided it didn’t look very good.
Greg: I like good stop motion creature effects. This… isn’t great though.
Greg: He IS a doctor!
Ollie: I like the cheese to be honest. It’s so bad; it’s good.
Greg: It has its charms, but there’s some really high production value elsewhere in the movie that makes the inconsistency a bit odd.
Avery: I also just prefer the earlier, “Howard vs society” elements of the story.
Greg: Yeah, there was no reason for this to turn into an effects driven action movie.
Ollie: Yeah, they should go on tour with Cherry Bomb.
Avery: He could get in that fight with the lady on the bus then meet KISS…
Ollie: Iggy Pop.
Greg: How did I almost forget about the KISS issue?
Ollie: Where are Iggy Pop Marvel Comics? Oh wait Spider-Punk #1 had a reference!
Avery: Yeah but how much blood did he donate for the ink??
Greg: He could hang out with Wolverine because clearly he has a healing factor.
Ollie: Seriously. Oh, I did get the tour movie! I bet this is her singing.
Greg: Wow the shamelessness of the Back to the Future reference here.
Ollie: Showing off her ballet training.
Avery: They knew this movie would be too much for the audiences of the time… but their kids were gonna love it.
Ollie: I want to see the special thanks of the time.
Greg: Peacock cut the credits for me so tell me who you see!
Avery: You’re missing the end credits song then.
Avery: 8 Howard voice credits!! The songs were all performed by the on-screen band themselves.
Ollie: Tell me the duck story.
Bum bum bum bum bum bum bum
A duck walked up to a lemonade stand
And he said “To the man runnin’ the stand.”
Hey, bum bum bum got any grapes?
The man said “No, we just sell lemonade.
But it’s cold and it’s fresh and it’s all homemade.
Can I get you a glass?”
The duck said “I’ll pass!”
Then he waddled away, waddle waddle
Greg: He contains multitudes!
Ollie: ‘Til the very next day…
Bum bum bum bum bum bum bum
When the duck walked up to the lemonade stand
And he said “To man runnin’ the stand.”
Hey, bum bum bum got any grapes?
The man said “No, like I said yesterday.
We just sell lemonade, okay?
Why not give it a try.”
The duck said “Goodbye!”
Then he waddled away, waddle waddle
Avery: They credited Mel Blanc for the Daffy appearance.
Greg: As they should!
Ollie: They did special thanks at the beginning to Gerber. And creator credit
Greg: Any mention of Val Mayerik, Gene Colan, etc?
Ollie: I’m not sure. I’d have to check. There was definitely one more name.
Greg: Well, we can look it up later. In the meantime, what are your thoughts after seeing it again?
Avery: It’s far from perfect, especially that third act, but it’s far better than people give it credit for. Plus, Thompson totally sells being in love with a puppet. I maintain that she should direct a sequel, especially since she stated in her appearance on the second Squirrel Girl podcast episode that she was the “star of the FIRST Howard the Duck biopic.”
Ollie: It’s definitely cheesy. I need to reread the original comics to say anything about how close they are to them. I think it’s okay for a movie to be a stand-alone adaptation of the comics, but I understand how a character can become an extension of yourself so it can be hard to see someone else’s interpretation. I really like Beverly’s character, and the meta element weaving Lea Thompson and Beverly together throughout later Marvel Comics runs, Thompson’s appearance on Dancing with the Stars dressed as Beverly, and appearing on the Squirrel Girl podcast to talk about the Howard the Duck biopic. You?
Greg: As far as an adaptation, it’s definitely disappointing in how bland Howard’s characterization is, and generally how uninterested the film is in anything remotely cerebral. And just in general, I would classify this as a bad movie, mostly on account of its unfunny and poorly paced script. But its charm is genuine, and not even in a “so bad it’s good” way. There were clearly people involved who were really invested in trying to make something good, or at least have fun with it—namely Lea Thompson and the puppeteers. So while it’s definitely not as good as Batman and Robin (yes, reader, I earnestly love B&R), it most certainly doesn’t deserve a reputation as one of the “worst films ever made.” If Howard the Duck is the worst film you ever saw you haven’t seen enough bad movies.
Readers should know the three of us regularly watch bad movies together. This doesn’t even crack the top 10 worst movies we’ve watched.