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W.C. Fields: The Mack Sennett Shorts
Topic Started: Nov 22 2015, 07:32 AM (338 Views)
Laughing Gravy
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I'm still goin' through that big boxed set of Fields films, but took a side turn to chronologically fit in the four 2-reelers he made for Mack Sennett (distributed by Paramount, so it's okay) in 1932-33. Long in the public domain so they used to be on TV all the time (PBS seemed to show them a lot when I was a kid) and a big part of Fields' legend: as Leslie Halliwell put it, they're "absurd star comedies for [Fields] addicts only," which is why we all love 'em. Fields wrote all four of 'em, and there's an old Criterion set that collects 'em.

The Dentist (1932, dir. Leslie Pearce) is probably the weakest of the four; Fields reprises part of his vaudeville golf routine (with Bud Jamison), tossing first his clubs, then his caddy into the lake, and heads home to keep his daughter, Babe Kane, out of the hands of the ice man. He ends up wrestling with a woman with impossibly long legs that she wraps around his waist.

The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933, dir. Clyde Bruckman) is the masterpiece of the group, and I've always loved this quote from the book "The Films of W.C. Fields" by Donald Deschner, from a theatre owner in North Carolina:

"The worst comedy we have played from any company this season. No story, no acting, and as a whole has nothing."

Fields sings a temperance song, accompanying himself on the dulcimer, about his son, who went off to the Big City in search of adventure and instead got the delirium tremens and robbed a bank. Then Fields tries to milk his elk Lena and eat some soup. And it ain't a fit night out for man nor beast. This short's a killer; just screamingly funny and absurd (he has a tribe of Indians living in his cabin) and if you don't like this, you won't like anything I like.

The Pharmacist and The Barber Shop (both 1933, and both dir. Arthur Ripley) both play like little 20-min. Fields feature films, with jokes, routines, gags and lines he'd use in future works. In particular, The Barber Shop - Fields foils a robber and becomes a hero - is a blueprint for one of his most celebrated works.

Million-dollar Dialog:
Customer, after being told that there are no purple postage stamps: "The government even tells you what color STAMPS you have to use! That's the DEMOCRATS for you!!!"

Four gems that showcase pure, unadulterated W.C. Fields (the Criterion offering includes ribald scenes cut from the film by censors), some of my favorite movies ever. I find it interesting that Fields, a "big star" on stage and headliner in feature films already, would consent to do short subjects, but the money was probably good and the ability to write his own films no doubt was extremely appealing. In any case, they're classics.



"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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CliffClaven
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Balcony Gang, Foist Class
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"The city ain't no place for a woman, son, but pretty men go thar."
-- Fields, quoting his father to cheer up a mountie reduced to sobs by his song.
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The Batman
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I have that Criterion set and it's a gem. Can't go wrong with WC Fields, in this kid's book.


Always be yourself! Unless you can be Batman...then always be Batman!
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Ignatz Ratzkywatzky
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I revisited and reviewed THE FATAL GLASS OF BEER for my new website:

https://bottomshelfmovies.com/the-fatal-glass-of-beer-1933/
IT CAME FROM THE BOTTOM SHELF! is a movie recommendation site, focusing on forgotten classics, lesser-known gems, and oddball discoveries. https://www.bottomshelfmovies.com
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