Friday, September 04, 2015

W.C. Fields 100th Anniversary

"Bill never really wanted to hurt anybody. He just felt an obligation."
Gregory LaCava

100 years ago, vaudeville star W.C. Fields began his movie career with the 1915 short subject Pool Sharks, the signature Fields mannerisms and timing are already readily apparent.

After spending Wednesday's post pondering the future of Turner Classic Movies, possibly needlessly, we note that the channel shall be paying tribute today to one of the favorite comedians here at Way To Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, the great W.C. Fields. The tribute, W.C. Fields: 100 Years In Film, celebrates the centenary of the actor, comedian and Ziegfeld Follies star's first silver screen appearances.

As The Marx Brothers did, Fields enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the 1960's and 1970's. In a development that seen today - in an era when anything that hits the airwaves or the internet enjoys much LESS than Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame and anything more than 30 minutes in the past is instantaneously looked down upon - would be unthinkable, the youth of the era embraced the razzing of the social order and the anti-establishment modus operandi exemplified by both comics.

TCM's tribute to the cantankerous, iconoclastic, booze-swilling comic kicks off with his best known and most nose-thumbing film, The Bank Dick.

Mr. Fields' granddaughter, global health advocate Dr. Harriet A. Fields, along with Ben Mankiewicz, will be co-hosting. It's not the first TCM homage to the inventive and original comedian, as he was the featured Star Of The Month awhile back.

Although it is tough for Fields fans to watch him in a silent movie - you just want to hear that nasal drawl and the muttered asides he would do so brilliantly in talkies - he starred in several 1920's features for directors D.W. Griffith and Gregory La Cava. At the end of silents, Fields was teamed with Mack Sennett Studio, Fox Sunshine Comedies and Charlie Chaplin Productions favorite, the diminutive and very prolific comic Chester Conklin. None of these late 1920's features the pair made for Paramount Pictures exist at this time.

After the last Paramount features Fields found himself briefly making short subjects at Radio Pictures.

Fields apparently was signed for the 1930-1931 season of short subjects, but, noting the low billing in the following advertisement, one wonders if he had already left Radio Pictures by the time this got published.

The first and only Fields Radio Pictures short, The Golf Specialist, is the first time in a talkie we get to see the famous Fields golf routine.

Fields would appear in the Marilyn Miller musical comedy Her Majesty Love for First National, along with fellow Ziegfeld Follies comic Leon Errol and silent film comedian, known as the Keystone Cops chief from Mack Sennett and Henry Lehrman comedies (as well as numerous 1920's character roles), Ford Sterling.

His next opportunity would be the four short subjects produced by Mack Sennett and released in 1933: The Pharmacist, The Barber Shop, The Dentist and The Fatal Glass Of Beer. The last of the group is a stinging sendup of the Victorian melodramas ("The Drunkard") that were the rage in the late 19th and early 20th century. Fields skewers 'em with relish!

The return of Fields to Paramount in 1933 would result in many of his very best films, ranging from the bizarre Million Dollar Legs and International House to his pairings with actress Alison Skipworth and arguably his greatest starring vehicles, It's A Gift and Man On The Flying Trapeze, produced in 1934-1935.

Most notable of the Fields Paramount features on TCM tonight: It's A Gift, which stars Fields in his beleaguered every man character.

He owns a small-town grocery store and is surrounded by obnoxious patrons, the mischievous and irritating Baby LeRoy and a domineering, constantly complaining spouse (played to a T by Kathleen Howard). The sight gags, routines and Fields' performance in this are impeccable. Here's the famous "sleeping on the porch" sequence.

Also on the bill: the Dickensian version of Fields, shining as Micawber in David Copperfield, and one of his last group of films produced by Universal, You Can't Cheat An Honest Man. See W.C. Fields: 100 Years In Film for more details. We thank TCM for spotlighting the iconic and hilarious comic.

We also thank Amanda Garrett for her review of The Bank Dick on Old Hollywood Films and Aurora for her wonderful homage to Fields on Once Upon A Screen.


Max Lanzisera said...

"Ain't a fit night out for man nor beast!"

Paul F. Etcheverry said...

"He was very good with mustard".