The W. C. Fields Comedy Collection
W. C. Fields was a unique and amazing man.
He lived a very active and full life, and embellished (or out and out lied
about) so many of the things that he did that no two biographies tell the
same story. Though just about every aspect of his life is contradicted
some place or other, it's generally accepted that Fields had a rough childhood.
Born in 1880, though many sources claim 1879, Fields grew up in Philadelphia.
As a young lad he fought frequently with his father and left home at the
age of 11. He lived by stealing, panhandling, and by becoming a pool
shark. The deep poverty he experience during his youth would haunt
him for the rest of his life.
He started juggling around this age, and became
quite adept. He was so good that he went professional, juggling at
an amusement park. Within a few months he created a comic juggling
act and went on the road touring vaudeville houses. In the off season,
he would work Atlantic City and even claimed to have been a professional
drowner. Every hour he would swim out to sea and pretend to drown.
A large crowd would gather to watch the life guards rush out to save him.
The theory was some of the spectators would stick around and patronize
the nearby businesses.
He continued on the vaudeville circuits for a
number of years, generally earning good reviews and making more and more
money. In 1899 he signed with a New York burlesque operator for $35/week
(a good sum in those days) and in 1900 he was hired to play the Orpheum
vaudeville circuit at $125/week, and in 1915 he signed on with Ziegfeld's
Follies at $600/week.
Over the years Field's act changed. In addition
to juggling, he added a comic pool skit, as well as routines built around
tennis and golf. Most of which he would later preform in movies.
Fields rose to the top of the stage world, headlining
in a hit Broadway show, Poppy, in 1924. As with many Broadway
stars, Hollywood beaconed. In 1925 he made a film version of Poppy,
retitled Sally of the Sawdust which was directed by D. W. Griffith.
Soon after Fields signed a contract with Paramount and made eight film
with the studio between 1926 and 1928. None of them were very popular,
and his contract was not renewed.
He returned to Broadway and stepped into a $5,000/week
contract in Earl Carroll's Vanities. Fields was still at the
top of the heap in New York, but that wouldn't last. When the stock
market crashed, shows started closing left and right and Fields soon found
himself unemployed and unable to find work. So he took a risk.
He moved to Hollywood, without a contract, and tried to break into the
movies again. After making The Golf Specialist for RKO
in 1930, Fields teamed up with Mack Sennet to make four shorts that showcased
his comedic ability. These films solidified his character and brought
him to the attention of the big studios again. He went to work for
Paramount, making a series of pedestrian all-star comedies. The best
of these, International House, was a hit, and based on its success,
Fields was able to negotiate a $100,000/year contract for three years with
The W.C. Fields Comedy Collection gathers together
the cream of Fields' talking feature films in one attractive set.
The set includes International House, It's a Gift, You Can't Cheat an
Honest Man, My Little Chickadee, and The Bank Dick. A
wonderful set of comedy classics.
(1933): This is an ensemble piece with Bela Lugosi, Burns and Allen,
Cab Calloway, and Rudy Vallee among others. More of a variety show
than a movie with the plot being very minimal and the narrative getting
frequently interrupted by song and dance numbers. The plot, such
as it is, had several unique characters congregating at a hotel in Wu-Hu,
China to bid on a scientists new invention: Television.
This movie isn't a classic by any means, but it is light fun entertainment.
Burns and Allen, as a doctor and his harebrained nurse, do a lot of the
shtick that made them famous, and they are at the top of their act here.
Fields doesn't really enter the film until the film is about 1/3 of the
way over, but he steals the show from that point on. Fields plays
a rich traveler who's gets lost piloting his plane. He isn't the
grouch that he played in his shorts and later films, but his comic timing
and mumbled jokes are still hilarious. This movie was released before
the Hays Commission started censoring films, and Fields gets away with
some great risque jokes. When he takes Peggy Hopkins Joyce for a
ride in his car, for example:
Hopkins: I'm sitting on something.
Fields: I lost mine in the stock market.
It's a Gift (1934): Fields'
movies don't really have plots per se, they are more like a collections
of comic situations strung together. This is a classic example.
Fields plays Harold Bissonette, a hen-pecked everyman who runs a small
store, but dreams of buying an orange farm in California. When a
relative dies and leaves him a modest sum of money, but sell his store,
much to the dismay of his wife, and travels across the country to get his
This is one of Fields best movies, an absolute classic. Fields
trying to shave with a straight razor while looking in a jostling mirror
suspended from a string is funny, but the scene where he tries to get some
sleep on the porch is hilarious. One of the great comedy scenes in
all of film. Fields under the breath jabs at his family and neighbors
are great. A must see film.
You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (1939):
Fields moved to Universal, and this was his first film at his new studio.
In this film Larson E. Whipsnade (Fields) owns the Circus Giganticus, a
seedy run down affair that is constantly in debt. He has trouble
staying ahead of the sherif and with his performers, most notably Charlie
McCarthy and Edgar Bergen give him constant grief.
Another fun film. Though it isn't Fields' finest, he does have
some great sections, and Bergen and McCarthy were in top form. Fields
was appearing on Bergen's radio show at the time. (Yes, a ventriloquist
had a radio show. Go figure. What's even more odd is that it
was pretty good.) The writers of the radio show had started a 'feud'
between the Fields and McCarthy, and it just spilled over into the movie.
Bergen was never truly great at the craft of ventriloquism, but he was
a great comedian and that shows through in this film. His bits are
delightful, as are Fields scenes. The romantic subplot gets a little
tiresome, but it isn't on screen enough to really drag the picture down.
My Little Chickadee (1940): This
is the only dud in the set. Fields was teamed up with Mae West in
hopes of boosting both of their sagging careers. There's not much
of a plot in this film either. Flower Belle Lee (Mae West) gets booted
out of the town of Little Bend for having an affair with The Masked Bandit.
She meets Cuthbert J. Twillie (Fields) a conman on a train and the two
agree to 'marry' so that they'll appear respectable. When they arrive
in Greesewood City, Fields gets made sherif, and West has to tame a classroom
full of rambunctious kids.
West and Fields had almost no chemistry on the screen together.
There were a few good moments, but overall this film doesn't work.
It was a very contentious shoot, with both stars competing to out do each
other and attempting to rewrite each other's lines. (They co-wrote
the screenplay.) This came through in the movie, and just wasn't
as funny or as interesting as you would think. By this time West
was 47 years old, and it's a little hard to imagine every male head being
turned her way. She's playing the character of Mae West more than
anything else. The occasional laughs weren't enough to save this
Bank Dick (1940): This, along with
It's a Gift, are the two best films that Fields made. Fans
are always arguing which one is superior. This was the film that
Fields had most creative control, and it shows. Here all of his characters
are rolled into one. He plays Egbert Sousé, the downtrodden
father with a bratty son and love-struck daughter, and a boozing conman
who couldn't tell a true story if his life depended on it, and a scheming
plotter who is trying to strike it rich. The plot, again basically
a series of sketches, involves Souse directing a film, getting a bank examiner
drunk, foiling a robbery (sort of) and it all ends with a grand chase.
This is a wonderful movie, not only because of Fields' comic ablility,
but because he ironically turns his louse of a character into someone that
is endearing. When you see Sousé in one of his 'detective
disguises' you can't help but like him.
Again, it's Field's muttered jabs that are the most hilarious.
His comment on children for example: I'm very fond of children. Girl
children, around eighteen and twenty." There is also a lot of Fields'
love of language and the sound of words for comic effect in this film:
Egbert Sousé: The jockey was a very insulting fellow. He referred
to my proboscis as an adscititious excrescence. I had to tweak his nose.
Egbert Sousé: Don't be a luddy-duddy! Don't be a mooncalf! Don't
be a jabbernowl! You're not those, are you?
Or this exchange with his daughter's paramour:
Egbert Sousé: My uncle, a balloon ascensionist, Effingham Hoofnagle,
took a chance. He was three miles and a half up in the air. He jumped out
of the basket of the balloon and took a chance of landing on a load of
Og Oggilby: Golly! Did he make it?
Egbert Sousé: Uh... no. He didn't. Had he been a younger man,
he probably would have made it. That's the point. Don't wait too long in
A classic film, and one of Fields' last movies. He made one more
film after that, 1941's Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, which
did poorly at the box office and Universal dropped him. Over
the next few years he would play small parts in a few more films, but his
years of heavy drinking finally caught up with him. He was diagnosed
with cirrhosis of the liver and died of pneumonia on Christmas Day 1946.
He is a true comic genius who is still admired to this day, and this set
off his best features shows why.
This five disc set comes in a fold out disc holder that is encased in
a very nice slipcase.
Each of these films has a two channel mono sound track with English,
Spanish and French subtitles. The audio has been cleaned up and sounds
very good. Of course, given the age of these films, there isn't a
lot of dynamic range or explosive sounds. The music comes across
fairly well though, and there isn't any hiss of other audio defects.
All of these movies have been restored, and the full frame black and
white video look pretty good overall, but these movies weren't perfect.
I was disappointed to notice that there is some edge enhancement applied
to the image. While it's not too heavy handed, I think the picture
would have looked better without it. They also went a little too
far with the digital restoration. It has left a good amount
of mosquito noise in the background, which was fairly noticeable.
This caused walls and large patches of one shade of grey to appear to be
vibrating or moving. Aside from these defects, the picture had very
good detail and contrast. There was a very good range of grey tones
and the image was very clear. Print defects were at a minimum, with
very few spots and scratches. Even with the digital defects and edge
enhancement these movies would have been outstanding, as it is they look
This set has very few extras included, which is too bad. Besides
a few trialers, the only bonus item was W. C. Fields: Behind the Laughter:
an episode of the TV show Biography that looked at the famous comedian.
This wasn't too indepth, but it was a good overview of the man's life.
This is a great set of fantastic movies. It's a Gift and
The Bank Dick are classic films, and the others are very good, with
the possible exception of My Little Chickadee. Though I wish
that Universal, who released this set, has used a gentler hand while restoring
the image, the films do look very good. A set that fans of classic
comedy shouldn't be without. Highly Recommended.