W.C. Fields: 6 Short Films (1915-1933) is a wonderful collection of shorts showcasing the talents of comedian W.C. Fields. The collection contains the following classic films:
Pool Sharks is approximately 10 minutes long, with the other (sound) shorts being around 20 minutes apiece. Including all six shorts in chronological order on this DVD lets you see the development and refining of W.C. Fields' comedic talent. Some of the gags work, and some of the gags don't -- but, it is always entertaining to watch.
- Pool Sharks (1915): The first motion picture for W.C. Fields. This silent slapstick film is the story of two men battling for the attention of a woman. They decide to settle their dispute in a pool hall, which only makes matters worse.
- The Golf Specialist (1930): Fields pursues the flirtatious wife of a jealous husband in his first sound film. Taking her out on the golf course allows Fields to show off some of his famous gags.
- The Dentist (1932): Fields plays a crabby dentist who, after playing an aggravating round of golf, takes his frustrations out on his patients! Criterion has restored a sexually-suggestive scene that was previously censored.
- The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933): In the frozen Canadian north, a gold prospector and his wife await the return of their son from prison.
- The Pharmacist (1933): Fields plays the title character, a druggist who spends the day alternately being annoyed by his family and desperately attempting to sell items at his struggling drug store.
- The Barber Shop (1933): A barber with questionable ability spins some tall tales, and then becomes involved with a bank-robbing bandit!
Given the age and state of the surviving film elements, Criterion has done an excellent job restoring these films. Not surprisingly, this release blows away the terrible, blurry Madacy version. Obviously, there is significant damage to the source material, so this transfer exhibits nicks, scratches, dirt, and other faults that are to be expected on films this old. However, the shorts are in very good condition overall and this transfer is crisp, with solid contrast and only occasional soft or blurry scenes. There is no graininess or digital artifacts in the transfer. Criterion should be congratulated for doing such a great job with what I'm sure was challenging material.
With any films of this vintage, you have to make some allowances for the age and condition of the soundtrack materials, but the results of Criterion's work on this DVD are quite good. There is nearly-constant background hiss and occasional sound dropouts, but dialog is almost always easy to understand (if a bit thin and "tinny" sounding). There is some occasional distortion in background music -- mostly during the opening titles, which sometimes sound like they were recorded underwater. Still, even with these expected caveats, the sound is very good on these films. Most of the "problems" you may notice are due more to the primitive sound recording techniques of the day, and not the fault of the transfer to DVD.
There are no extras on this DVD, aside from English subtitles for the hearing impaired.
The crabby, droll, and sometimes slapstick humor of W.C. Fields is definitely not for everyone's tastes, but this Criterion Collection DVD shows off his talents in a great retrospective. Fields fans are going to want to run out and buy this title immediately and casual viewers would probably enjoy renting this collection.