Saturday, January 04, 2014

The W.C. Fields Code

Well, it just had to happen, didn't it?  I don't know when it came out, but we just got the 10 movie collection of W.C. Fields' movies.  Now, I hate to pit comedians against each other, but here goes.  Say what you will about the Marx brothers; at least W. C. Fields tweaked his formula a little bit now and again.  In You Can't Cheat an Honest Man and The Old Fashioned Way, Fields doesn't end up suddenly making a ton of money as in The Bank Dick and It's a Gift.  And Man on the Flying Trapeze contains one of the testiest run-ins with the cops that I've ever seen.  Life lesson: if a cop pulls you over, make sure you park in a legal parking spot!!!  I'll probably never get to see My Little Chickadee, which might be for the best.  Poor Mae West; she probably should've stood by her material a little harder or something.
So while we wait for Dennis Quaid to put on heavy latex makeup to play W.C. Fields, the originals will just have to do.


As we say in our little clan, It's a Gift is W.C. Fields' best movie... or is it?  Maybe it's just that it's about family, or that it's the most normal family he's a part of.  But it's a love letter to the American Dream, no question.  Fields doesn't do any juggling here, but he does walk a tightrope between the harsh now of operating a corner grocery store and the golden future of California oranges.  My favorite part is probably still the coconut that almost steals the whole show.  I also still like when Fields says "YOU TOLD HIM YOU WOULDN'T DO IT IF YOU WAS HIM!"  Poor guy just can't win.  I wonder if this one was his favorite.  Hard to say, as he probably preferred his bit in David Copperfield.  Fields seems to fancy himself a product of Dickens' heyday, and he got a chance to relive the world of his childhood in such period pieces as The Old Fashioned Way and Poppy.



I hadn't seen this one in a while, so when I recently rewatched it again, I immediately glommed onto the scene where he's in Snoopington's ... Snoopington!  Good Lourdes... hotel room, and he taps a cane four times.  Fields was no dummy, and he knew that in these talkies, you just gotta have the funny sound effects.  Just gotta.  Any and all chances you get.  Also, I'm apparently like Fields, and I tend not to pay much attention to what the other characters say, because I finally picked up on what the bank president said!  He goes something like "We want a special officer of the bank, or in the underworld slang, a 'bank dick'".  See?  Fields was a man of the people after all!
Here he plays a family man much like the patriarch of It's a Gift but without a steady job to speak of.  But he does know the importance of keeping a regular schedule, and he spends his 9 to 5 mostly at a place called... hoh boy... the Black Pussy Cat Cafe, run by Shemp Howard, no less!  And even though Fields' penchant for characters with comedy names is probably at its wildest here, he nevertheless takes a big swipe at Hollywood and the drunken British directors who thrive in it.  Part of his big financial reward at the end comes from a Hollywood producer, and part from the bounty on a bank robber's head.  As I've been saying more and more lately, God bless the criminals and the big bounties upon their heads!  Well, somebody's got to keep this unstable economy of ours afloat!



Fields did what he could to make his films as naughty as possible, and Hollywood clamped down on him hard for it.  Meanwhile, that Edgar Bergen's just downright nasty!  Where was the Hays Code on his ass?  Vomiting puppets!  Puppets hocking loogies!  Also, he's trying to marry a girl 17 years his junior!  She just turned 18, for God's sake!  Ah, celebrities.  But it is indeed worth it as a foil for Fields, who says to Charlie McCarthy (one of Bergen's puppets) "I'll send over a couple of beavers to you!"
And so, the Fields formula's tweaked a bit.  As in The Old Fashioned Way, Fields lords over a showbiz enterprise that's doing everything it can to stay one step ahead of the police.  This time, it's a circus in hock.  And you can't help but notice that Fields is awfully jumpy.  The first... second scene takes advantage of that right away, as he tries to sell tickets amid interruption after rude interruption.
Fields' family situation is also a little different this go round.  He has two kids: a boy and a girl, and they're both college age.  Their dear old mother has passed on, as W.C. mentions more than once.  Well, I guess he needed a break this time.  The boy's trying to pressure the girl to marry the rich doofus she's been going with, but she doesn't love him.  Meanwhile, Bergen is trying to be her suitor!  Fields sure ain't too happy about that, and doesn't particularly want Bergen as a son-in-law.  I don't understand why; he could eventually be his own grandpa!
Also, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson works at W.C.'s circus... Rochester!  But... what about Jack Benny?  Great film.  Spoiler alert: love triumphs in the end, W.C.'s still on the run from the cops... but on the bright side, Bergen has yet to become W.C.'s son-in-law!  There's one part where Fields gets spritzed with water from an elephant that I particularly liked... you can probably guess which one.



Meh.  However, Fields regular Jan Duggan steals the show as Cleopatra Pepperday.  I think the screenwriters are toying with us, because they keep saying she's the richest woman in town!  So naturally, you'd expect Fields to sweep her off her feet to bail out his failing stock company on the verge of insurrection.  Anti-fans of Fields may be pleased at this film's ending.  Spoiler alert: he doesn't end up on Easy Street with Pepperday!  The film ends with him selling bottles of tonic that cure hoarseness.  I hate to say it's where he deserves to land, because for him it's probably a short hop, skip and jump to the Senate.  Oh, and he kicks Baby LeRoy in the ass, but it's okay because no one was looking.  Just the camera!

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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