W.C. Fields Comedy Collection: (The Bank Dick / My Little Chickadee / You Can't Cheat an Honest Man / It's a Gift / International House)
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(Nov 09, 2004)
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W.C. Fields is an American original, the curmudgeonly master of wit and good, mean fun. In this collection of madcap classics, the famously top-hatted Fields unleashes his unique comic zing, proving himself the king of the one-liner. This special DVD collection includes The Bank Dick, My Little Chickadee, You Can't Cheat an Honest Man, It's a Gift and International House. The W.C. Fields Comedy Collection is Fields at his finest, and a must-have for anyone who loves to laugh!
For anyone who loves classic comedy, the W.C. Fields Comedy Collection is absolutely essential. Film for film, this may be the best DVD showcase ever devoted to a single comedian, including all five of Fields's acknowledged classics in a sturdy, beautifully designed library-quality slipcase. One could easily lament the relative lack of bonus features (it would have been nice to have some vintage Fields radio shows and newsreel footage), but the inclusion of A&E's 1994 Biography documentary W.C. Fields: Behind the Laughter is sufficiently informative about Fields's life, career, irascible personality, and tragic alcoholism. That's all that's really needed when the films themselves are so timelessly entertaining, and they're all remarkably pristine in sound and image quality. The best way to appreciate Fields's evolving screen persona is to view these films in chronological order: In International House (1933), Fields was merely one of many Paramount stars of screen and radio (including Rudy Vallee, Burns & Allen, Bela Lugosi, Sterling Holloway, and manic bandleader Cab Calloway), but he handily steals the show, invading a Shanghai hotel in his airplane/helicopter and delivering the classic line (to Franklin Pangborn), "Don't let the posy fool ya!" It's one of Paramount's best all-star revues.
It's a Gift (1934) is a remake of Fields's 1926 silent It's the Old Army Game, and was the first sound feature devoted to Fields's inimitable talent. As beleaguered husband and would-be orange farmer, Fields revives vintage routines from Vaudeville and Broadway, and his first encounter with Baby LeRoy is comedy gold. You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (1939) features Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy and Fields's classic, still-hilarious ping-pong routine, while 1940's My Little Chickadee matches Fields (as "Guthbert J. Twillie") with Mae West, whose unforgettable on-screen banter with Fields shows no sign of their notorious off-screen animosity. In his raucous masterpiece The Bank Dick (also 1940), Fields is "Egbert Souse," lowly bank guard, unlikely hero, and manic driver in perhaps the greatest slapstick car-chase scene ever filmed. Despite the regrettable absence of Fields's final starring feature Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, this classy five-disc set is a veritable cornucopia of comedy, offering ample proof of Fields's comic genius through classic one-liners, physical routines, memorable costars, and perfect bits of business that never grow old. --Jeff Shannon
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Aside from that issue, this is a very nice package with excellent sound and video.
Fields' style may seem an anachronism to today's viewers. The pace is slow, and a lot of the comedy is verbal--it's in the script. You need to get into the man's mindset to start enjoying the humor. His intolerance of everyday irritations, while feigning elaborate politeness; his vulnerability to pratfalls while maintaining an air of casual confidence; his style is really unique. That said, one can find similarities, here, with John Cleese. In fact Cleese has acknowledged copying some of Fields' body language, but it goes much deeper than that. Cleese's character Basil Fawlty, in the Fawlty Towers BBC series, has so much in common with Fields, I don't think it's a coincidence. The exasperation when dealing with a shrewish wife, the dislike of impertinent children, and the intolerance of everyday annoyances--if we view Cleese as a latter-day reincarnation of Fields, or Fields as a forerunner of Cleese, the great films of W. C. Fields acquire additional interest as milestones in the history of comedy.
Many WC movies contain a long scene where WC has great difficulty doing something simple. Here WC has a lot of trouble getting to sleep on his porch after escaping from his bedroom due to his haranguing wife. WC eventually sells the store and moves to California (during the 1930s) with his family to operate an orange grove. The place turns out to be a dump but, as usual, WC manages to accidentally bump into a fortune.
The better known Fields western is the 1940 film My Little Chickadee made with Mae West. This one is set in the 1880s and Fields is in his more common role as a con man. Here he runs into Mae West who is able to outwit Fields at every turn. They meet on a train and she tricks him into an instant fake marriage on board after she mistakenly believes Fields has a lot of money. She then becomes enamored of a masked bandit and keeps seeing him while supposedly married to Fields. Fields decides the best way for him to see her is to dress up as the masked bandit and ends up on the gallows when caught. This was one of his major last films and apparently her last major film.
The action begins when Flower Belle Lee (Mae West) is kidnapped by the masked bandit when he holds up her stagecoach. Amazingly enough, Flower Belle returns that night unharmed--and a love affair starts to blossom between her and the masked bandit! He has even given Flower Belle some of the gold he stole from the stagecoach. The people of Little Bend finally give up on Flower Belle when she is caught after she obviously had another tryst with the masked bandit. She is not allowed to return to Little Bend until she is "respectable"--and married.
Flower Belle boards the train to Greasewood with her escort Mrs. Gideon (Margaret Hamilton) and she fakes a marriage along the way to a ne'er-do-well Cuthbert J. Twillie (W.C. Fields), a complete stranger she meets on the train--but she thinks Cuthbert has money so they have a wedding with a fake preacher just so Flower Belle can get her hands on that money--and she does, only to find out it was as fake as her marriage to Twillie! Flower Belle has some time avoiding Twillie who wants to consummate their "marriage;" but true to form Flower Belle always manages to get out of THAT situation.
Moreover, Flower Belle meets two men in Greasewood who catch her eye--the straight and narrow good guy Wayne Carter (Dick Foran) and the owner of a huge saloon and party club, Jeff Badger (Joseph Calleia). All sorts of interesting scenes ensue as the two men pursue Flower Belle and flirt with her even though they still think she is actually married to Twillie. Badger even makes Twillie the town's new sheriff because that's the quickest way to bump him off--and get Flower Belle to be his wife!
Of course, from here the plot can go anywhere. Will Twillie survive being sheriff? Will Flower Belle eventually be free of Twillie to marry either Badger or Wayne Carter? What about Mrs. Gideon--will she cause trouble for Flower Belle as she flirts with all these men? No plot spoilers here, folks--watch the movie and find out.
Of course, this VHS tape has no extras. This movie is available on a DVD set called Mae West - The Glamour Collection; but even there according to the reviewers there is only the extra of the original trailer for this movie.
My Little Chickadee is an entertaining film with lots of action, comedy, suspense and great acting. Mae West and W.C. Fields fans will love this film; and fans of classic movies in general will also enjoy this movie.