- Paperback: 200 pages
- Publisher: McFarland (March 27, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1476665303
- ISBN-13: 978-1476665306
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,234,917 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The W.C. Fields Films
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"solid, well-researched, enjoyable...a great source to learn more about the unique vintage comedy star, one of the few silent veterans to prosper in the sound era"--Plan 9 Crunch.
About the Author
James L. Neibaur is a film historian and educator with more than a dozen books and articles in Cineaste, Classic Images, Film Quarterly, Films in Review, Filmfax, and Encyclopædia Britannica.
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The book begins with an overview of Field’s early life and career in vaudeville, and then delves into his film work, movie by movie. Even Field’s short films, beginning with his screen debut in the 1915 one reel silent film “Pool Sharks,” and films in which he made very small contributions (like his first role in a feature film, the 1924 epic “Janice Meredith” are documented, with Neibaur providing insightful commentary on the overall merits of the films as well as Fields’ contributions to them and their impact on his career. Fields successfully transitioned from silent to talking pictures, and throughout the 1930s he put out some of his best work—and some of the best comedies of the decade—at Paramount, from 1934’s “It’s a Gift” to 1940’s “The Bank Dick.” Fields had a lot of influence over his films outside of starring in them (he contributed to stories and/or wrote the screenplay for many of them), and Neibaur brings a lot of information and valuable insight about Fields’ process to light, including how his screen persona (which normally involved a cantankerous man who loved alcohol and hated children) developed and was presented in films throughout his career. Neibaur also pays attention to routines that Fields developed (some, like his juggling act and a pool routine, came about as early as his vaudeville days) and used repeatedly throughout his career, comparing and contrasting the effectiveness of each iteration, and his thoroughness extends to the work Fields did off-screen, like his popular radio appearances with Edgar Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy. The book is also brimming with behind-the-scenes photos, stills, and movie posters that provide another layer of information about Fields and his filmography.
Fields, who drank as heavily in real life as his characters often appeared to on screen, died in 1946 at the age of 66. But he left behind a body of work that is still hilarious and enjoyable to watch today. W.C. Fields is arguably one of the most influential comedians of all time, and Neibaur’s book is a must read for anyone looking not just to learn about Fields (and even if you think you know everything about Fields, this book proves there is more to learn), but to learn about what makes a great comedy film.
claiming that if the film were miraculously available for a current screening, it might just be amusing in an absurdist way. With so many films in the Fields canon now available in beautiful prints on DVD (not to mention two soon-to-be-rereleased silent features, It's the Old Army Game and Running Wild), Mr. Neibaur's publication is almost Fieldsian in its timing. Highly recommended.
Since then, the Marx comedies—select titles, at least—are still being revived (though to a lesser extent) but the Fields movies are not as prominent as they once were on television and the film-festival circuit. And even though most Fields films are available on DVD, his recognition factor is, sadly, lower than it once was. Today people under a certain age haven’t a clue who he is or what a vital contribution he made to motion pictures.
Like many of the great movie comedians—and he definitely is one—it took a while for Fields to define and refine his irascible underdog persona. After starring in a series of silent movies (which were very entertaining despite the obvious drawback of not being able to hear his trademark nasally drawl), Fields hit his prime with some of the funniest comedies ever made: IT’S A GIFT, THE MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE, YOU’RE TELLING ME, THE FATAL GLASS OF BEER, THE OLD FASHIONED WAY and THE BANK DICK among them.
As the title indicates, this book chronicles Fields’ entire cinematic output, and does so in an engaging and informative manner, incorporating biographical data and insightful critiques. Hopefully, it will go a long way in serving as a reminder of (or an introduction to) this master comedian and his important body of work.