W.C. Fields Comedy Collection, Vol. 2 (The Man on the Flying Trapeze / Never Give A Sucker An Even Break / You're Telling Me! / The Old Fashioned Way / Poppy)
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Legendary actor and entertainer W.C. Fields is an American comedy treasure - a headliner who always left audiences laughing for more of his sharp-tongued one-liners, slapstick shenanigans and notoriously caustic wit. Now you can catch more of his unique comedic style in five of his most uproarious films: You're Telling Me!, The Old Fashioned Way, Man on the Flying Trapeze, Poppy and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break. Loaded with classic comedy routines, the W.C. Fields Comedy Collection: Volume Two is more of Fields at his finest, proving that the master of the one-liner can still keep fans laughing out loud!
It's a sobering thought that iconoclastic clowns such as W.C. Fields have fallen off the pop-culture radar (as evidenced by the fact that the studio felt compelled to insert the word comedy into the title of this collection). With his penchant for smoke and drink and dim view of such institutions as marriage and small-town America, Fields is just the jolting rebuke for these PC times. This bracing boxed set contains five potent films that are 100-proof Fields with a bonus documentary chaser. Two films capture Fields at his disreputable best. In The Old Fashioned Way (1934), Fields stars as the Great McGonigle, who heads a ragtag traveling repertory troupe that is always just one step ahead of the sheriff. Fields displays his mad juggling skills as well as his antipathy toward children in the classic scene with Baby LeRoy, which climaxes with McGonigle giving the bratty tot a swift kick in the diapers (try getting away with that today). In Poppy (1936), Fields reprises his famed stage role as con man supreme Professor McGargle, who joins a traveling circus and schemes to pass off his daughter as the heir to a fortune. Two other films present Fields as the Rodney Dangerfield of his day, getting absolutely no respect from shrewish wives, monstrous in-laws, and others who bedevil his so-called life, like the succession of four policemen in The Man on the Flying Trapeze, who near simultaneously issue him traffic tickets as Fields tries to attend a wrestling match. You're Telling Me (1934) reveals a somewhat softer side of Fields, who portrays a failed inventor driven to the brink of suicide.
This set also contains the essential Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941), in which Fields, as himself, attempts to sell an "impossible, inconceivable, incomprehensible" screenplay to the studio. Fields films are more deliberately paced than the Marx Brothers' manic romps, all the better to savor Fields' way with words ("what fulgent sunshine," "this mundane sphere"). To quote Slim Pickens in Blazing Saddles, he uses his tongue prettier than a $2, um, woman of ill-repute. This set's bonus is a 1965 television special that, despite its sweetened soundtrack and lame antics by hosts Wayne and Schuster, offers a cornucopia of classic clips and some genuine insights into Fields' comedy. A toast in anticipation of a Volume Three: May the next round contain Million Dollar Legs and Mississippi. --Donald Liebenson
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The best movie is probably the 1935 movie The Man on the Flying Trapeze. Here Fields has a shrewish wife and an even more abusive mother in law who both detest alcohol. Fields has set up an apple cider (applejack) still in his dingy basement but the women know nothing about it. Burglars break into the basement, start drinking the cider, and then start singing. The wife has Fields call the police and go down to the basement to investigate. The most memorable scene results when Fields, a policeman, and the burglars end up drinking and singing together.
As usual Fields never has a regular job and here is a memory expert for a company president, where he memorizes details about all of the clients so that the president can discuss them when he meets them. Fields has not had a day off for 25 years but wants an afternoon off when a big wrestling match comes to town. He gets the afternoon off by falsely claiming that he must attend his mother in law's funeral. This story eventually backfires and Fields is fired. But then the president realizes that he cannot manage without Fields.
In the 1934 film You're Telling Me, Fields is an inventor who has been trying to perfect a puncture-proof tire for twenty years. Buster Crabbe (of Flash Gordon fame) is the son of the town's wealthiest family and is pursuing Fields' daughter. The man's mother is against any engagement but relents when she discovers that Fields' wife is descended from a prominent Confederate family. Then she meets Fields and any engagement is definitely off. Meanwhile, Fields accidentally runs into a European princess on a train. She befriends him and creates a Cinderella-type plot when she visits his home town to rescue him from his predicaments. The most memorable scene is when Fields takes about ten minutes to hit a golf ball.
The obscure 1934 film In The Old Fashioned Way takes place sometime in the late 19th century, where Fields wears spats and horseless carriages are a novelty. Fields is the manager of a traveling theater troupe which is always one step ahead of creditors and the law. The troupe enters a small town and Fields tries to con the wealthiest widow there. The movie features a long melodramatic play by Fields' troupe which is apparently a parody of 19th century plays but modern audiences may have difficulty appreciating the humor as the underlying story with Fields is just as melodramatic.
At the end of the play Fields displays his juggling skills, which apparently got him into show business to begin with. The best scene in the movie is when Fields tricks a hotel owner into letting him escape without paying the bill. Fields is more of a con artist in this film and there is no happy ending where he overcomes all obstacles.
The obscure 1936 film Poppy is also set in the past, specifically in 1883. Here Fields is a con artist who is an entertainer with a traveling carnival. Poppy is his pretty daughter who is a singer. When the carnival visits a small town, Fields performs with his daughter, sells snake oil, and sees whom he can swindle. When he learns that a local fortune has been left for a long-vanished heiress, he forges a document to show that the heiress is his daughter but this backfires. The Cinderella theme re-emerges with the son of the town's mayor pursuing Fields' daughter even though she is a carnival girl. This one has a happy ending. This is apparently the first time Fields utters his phrase of never giving a sucker an even break.
Despite the title of this 1941 film Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, Fields is less antagonistic here than in other films. The movie is set on a mythical studio lot which was undoubtedly Universal Studios. Fields' pretty young niece is the singer Gloria Jean. There is no nagging wife here but the waitress at the local restaurant is onto Fields and plays the same role.
Here Fields is promoting a screenplay to a producer and the scenes from this movie within a movie take up most of the movie. It is probably the silliest Fields plot which starts out with Fields jumping out of a plane to retrieve a bottle of liquor he accidentally dropped from a plane window. He lands on the top of a hill which is supposed to be in Russia but looks more like the Alps. There he finds a pretty young girl who has never seen a man, having been secluded there by her mother, played by Margaret Dumont of Marx Brothers fame, because she doesn't trust men. When Fields learns the mother is rich, he pursues her for marriage. This cold weather place is populated by gorillas and monkeys which do not live there today.
At the end Fields performs a mad car ride through Los Angeles while transporting a female passenger. The middle aged woman wants to visit her daughter at a maternity hospital but Fields thinks she is the one delivering and drives like crazy. This part gives you a good picture of what Los Angeles and its cars looked like in 1941. This was apparently Fields' last movie.
My friends, It behooves me in the auspices of this regarded medium, to present for your consideration and edification, this treasured assemblage of veritable comedic virtuosity. The Great Man's unprecedented mythological persona and peerless powers of euphonious linguistics, flawless timing, sociological impossibilities, and acts of astonishing physical coordination, are magnificently ensconced in this sophomore offering of cinematic masterpieces.
Here we see the Great man's true essence in all its complexity and grandeur. What a cornucopia of idiosyncratic responses to the harsh realities of American life and the unfathomable moral paradoxes that inevitably arise. Witness, by way of example, "The Old Fashioned Way" wherein Mr. Fields, in the guise of the Great McGonigle, blusters his way through the plot with his usual braggadocio of larcenous chicanery. And in the end, in an incongruous act of unheralded clemency sacrifices his own contentment and felicity to insure the beatitude and plenteous prosperity of his daughter.
This is but a single citation from the convocation at hand, congregated and arrayed with all the gaudy trappings of pageantry.
My friends, methinks there is nary a single purchase you will make to grace your doubtless already palatial DVD collection more astutely and with more grandiosity than this resplendent aggregate. Witness my sincere injunction! I beseech you! Buy! Buy! My unborn children implore you, buy!
Ah yes. Yes indeed.
His attempts at the golf course, croquet lawn, and the pool table reveal another major source of laughter as he tries ineffectually to show his "expertise" at games for which he has no skill. His dislike of children is another peculiar characteristic and a sympathetic one because all his interactions are with little monsters or toddlers who throw oatmeal in his face and dip his pocket watch in a jar of molasses.
In this collection of five films there is no bad one. All are worth having for many reasons -- a time long gone and distant memories, a time for laughter at many of our own foibles and mistakes, and a comedian whose larcenous behavior is actually funny. His many names for his role and that of other characters are also humorous -- Larson E. Whipsnade (say it fast and it sounds like Larsony Whipsnake; Egbert Souse' (can be pronounced "souse" if you ignore the French accent mark) and many more.
In Poppy he sells a "talking dog" to the bartender, but it is Fields' ventriloquism that makes the dog seem to talk. Before he walks off with $20 from the bartender, he has the dog say, "I don't think I'll ever talk again because he left me here." Of course he never will talk again.
There are many such scenes in these movies and you will find them all enjoyable and unlike anything you have seen before if you are new to Mr. Fields.
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