Posts from the ‘W.C. Fields’ Category

You’re Telling Me!

W. C. Fields

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You’re Telling Me is a 1934 W.C. Fields comedy. It’s one of his lesser known films but one of the most enjoyable.

In this film Fields plays Sam Busbee, an inventor and hen-pecked husband from the wrong side of the railroad tracks. His daughter is engaged to the son of a society family but will be disinherited if they marry, due to Sam’s uncouth ways. Thanks to the intervention and friendship of a visiting Princess, Sam is made a hero of the town and his daughter can marry, whilst  high-society are exposed as just as big buffoons as the rest of us.

Fields of course gets in a lot of good lines, but it is his physical comedy that is most impressive here. Before becoming a comedian Fields was a renowned juggler, a skill that he uses in this film in a very subtle way. He also proves that he can do slapstick and pantomime as well as Chaplin or Harpo and he has a very rhythmic almost ballet-like type of movement. (I hope this makes sense!) Much of this physicality would sadly disappear in future films due to Fields alcoholism.

Another surprising element that this film has is the dramatic scenes in which Fields contemplates suicide. He elicits some great empathy from the audience and is simply terrific.

The highlight of the film comes at the end, when Fields participates in a golf match. This allows him to reprise a routine that he had earlier performed in a short film called The Golf Specialist.

Tillie and Gus

W. C. Fields

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Tillie and Gus is an early, underrated, W.C. Fields comedy. I found it to be very amusing.

One thing that I found interesting was that Fields at times took a backseat to his co-star Alison Skipworth who plays Tillie. Unlike other comedians of the era Fields was not afraid of sharing the spotlight or keeping all the good lines to himself.

The film also featured Baby LeRoy, who also appeared in a few Fields’ films including It’s A Gift and The Old Fashioned Way.

Tillie and Gus is a typical 1930s comedy about a riverboat race, yet it is the charisma and humour of Fields and Skipworth that make this movie so enjoyable.

W.C. Fields – Behind The Laughter

W. C. Fields

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Behind The Laughter was a 1994 TV documentary on the great man, that I believed aired on the Biography Channel in the US. It was included by Universal as part of the W.C. Fields DVD box set (volume 1). Despite featuring interviews with relatives of Fields (his nephew I think), his co-star from Never Give A Sucker an Even Break Gloria Jean, and people such as Rod Steiger and Ed MacMahon, it seems like it was a rather rushed, poorly researched and flawed documentary.

One person who really annoyed me throughout the entire film was Rod Steiger, who portrayed Fields in awful the 1977 bio-pic W.C. Fields and Me. Throughout the show he continually answers questions in a voice that imitates the distinctive drawl of Fields. I am not sure why they even asked Steiger to participate. I guess when you are making a cheap biography on someone it is customary to interview the actor who portrayed that person in a third-rate bio-pic that doesn’t even try to aim at accuracy?! As Vincent Canby said in his review of W.C. Fields and Me regarding Steiger…

Most prominent in the mess is Rod Steiger, who . . . reads all of his lines with the monotonous sing-song manner used by third-rate nightclub comics doing Fields imitations. He also speaks most of them out of the corner of his mouth as if he’d had a stroke.

17 years later his impression had not improved and is very irritating.

Most of the others who are interviewed in Behind The Laughter also seem to know very little about Fields. Everyone who says that they knew him calls him W.C. yet it is well-known that his very closest friends simply called him Bill.

Finally there is the misquote that is used to portray Fields as being jealous of Charlie Chaplin. BTL says that Fields dismissed Chaplin as being nothing but a ballet dancer. The actual quote is…

He’s the best ballet dancer that ever lived and if I get a good chance I’ll kill him with my bare hands.

which shows both admiration and I guess jealousy.

Overall W.C. Fields Behind The Laughter is a terrible documentary.

Poppy

W. C. Fields

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Poppy seems a bit different to the other W. C. Fields films that I have seen. It seems to be a typical 1930s comedy featuring Fields rather than a film that was built around him. It’s a lot more melodramatic than other Fields films, although it does feature enough of his weird and wonderful comedy to be worthy of a look.

Fields of course performed in the broadway version of Poppy over a decade earlier. He also played the part of Professor Eustace McGargle in the 1925 silent film Sally of the Sawdust.

Never Give A Sucker An Even Break

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break

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Never Give A Sucker An Even Break is a quite surreal film in that W.C. Fields is playing himself trying to pitch a film. It has quite a few funny scenes but is a little uneven. The bits where he’s discussing his script with Franklin Pangborn are amusing but the movie that Fields had envision is quite weird (I guess that’s the point!).

I could compare this film to a Marx Bros. film as it mixes music with the comedy. In Never Give A Sucker An Even Break Fifteen year old Gloria Jean sings some light operatic songs, but unlike those types of songs in the Marx‘s films, these musical interludes are not completely boring, which I guess is testament to the fact that Ms. Jean had some semblance of a personality, which can rarely be said for the singers in the Marx films. The songs here are just as mind-numblingly boring as those in Marx Bros. films, but in one scene in particular Ms. Jean actually pokes fun at this fact by showing how bored she is with the song. There is so much other funny stuff going on in the background that you don’t have to hit the fast forward button. Considering she was so young and seemed to be a talented actress and singer, I wonder why she did not appear in many more films.

Another comparison to the Marx Bros. is that Fields tries to woo Margaret Dumont in order to become wealthy. This is part of his script for his fictional film. Unlike Groucho though, Fields comes to his senses when he sees just what he’s gotten himself into. Another contrast here is that Ms. Dumont really isn’t playing the straight man to Fields here and that she is in on the joke. Perhaps Fields included this element to satirize the Marx Bros. films? He does mention Groucho by name in an early scene.

This is a funny yet weird film. The parts that are not Fields’ fantasy seem to work the best.

You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man

Sam Berman's caricature of Charlie McCarthy an...

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It’s a bit hard to explain but for many years Fields had a radio rivalry with Charlie McCarthy, Edgar Bergen’s (Candice’s father) dummy. It’s strange indeed to think of someone doing a ventriloquist act on the radio, but that is where this funny rivalry was created. Both Fields and Bergen have some great moments to themselves in the brief moments when they are in a scene together there is some really good chemistry and funny jokes.

My Little Chickadee

Mae West

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W. C. Fields and Mae West were two of the sharpest tongues in Hollywood with only Groucho Marx rivalling them for delivering the best one liners and double entendres. Whilst they do get a few great zingers into My Little Chickadee and there are a few laugh out loud moments, this film feels a bit odd. I think it’s because of the lack of chemistry between Fields and West. Whilst there are rumours of both the stars not liking each other and that they let their egos run rampant, trying to one up each other with the best lines, I don’t think any of this has been truly confirmed. I did read that Mae was a bit unhappy with Fields’ unprofessionalism and how he lived his drunken gimmick, but she still admired his comic abilities.

The film isn’t Fields’ or West’s best but it’s still a damn sight better than most other comedies.