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Still, the picture is mildly interesting in other ways, mainly in how, more so than in It's the Old Army Game, the dynamics of the typical Fields household are more crystalized.
The screenplay by director Gregory La Cava, with scenario and intertitles by Roy Briant, get the basic set-up right in some respects, while providing Fields awkward (intertitles) dialogue. Here he plays Elmer Finch, lowly clerk at the Harvey Toy & Novelties Co., without so much as a single raise in pay after 20 years on the job.
He lives with his second wife, shrewish Mrs. Finch (Marie Shotwell), a son by her first marriage, bratty and corpulent Junior (Barnett Raskin), and his daughter by his first marriage, pretty adult daughter Elizabeth (Mary Brian). She's in love with Dave Harvey (Claude Buchanan), son of Elmer's boss. She's aching to go with him to the Lion's Club ball, but needs a new dress. Elmer meekly asks for the money but grouchy Mrs. Finch puts the kibosh on that idea, instead indulging Junior, who sadistically makes trouble for Elmer at every turn.
At work Elmer, singularly superstitious for no clear reason, fares no better. His job already on the chopping block, Elmer masquerades as the sales manager, hoping to win a rich client, Mr. Johnson (J. Moy Bennett), but fails miserably. Later, he's sent to collect an overdue payment from toy importer Amos Baker (Frank Evans), but is scared off.
Finally, running for cover in a Vaudeville house entertaining visiting Lions, Arvo the Hypnotist (Edward Roseman) puts the whammy on Elmer, convincing him that he's a lion. However, an enraged Elmer storms out of the theater before Arvo can snap him out of it, sending Elmer on a half-conscious rampage against Amos Baker, his employers, and, finally, his wife and stepson.
Running Wild feels a lot less like a W.C. Fields movie than It's the Old Army Game. Here, Fields's dialogue in the intertitles "sounds" nothing like him. For nearly the last 15 minutes, he continually shouts, "I'm a lion!" which wears out its welcome fast. Even worse, in that state he snarls insults like, "Listen cripple brains - " hardly the signature of Mahatma Kane Jeeves.
Mary Brian is quite good as Fields's daughter: wholesome, pretty, and devoted to her father. She'd play essentially the same role for Fields in Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935), a film that's not a remake but shares a number of story similarities. In Running Wild respected stage actress Marie Shotwell plays his wife, but neither she nor Barnett Raskin as Junior are quite right. The wife character, later played to perfection by actresses like Kathleen Howard, are domineering drama queens, extravagantly and continually complaining about her socially undesirable, perennially blotto husband. (Elmer appears to be a teetotaler.)
Usually they're so over-the-top they become funny in their own right, but Shotwell is merely unpleasant. Raskin's Junior is even worse. In Man on the Flying Trapeze, roly-poly Grady Sutton played the part (as well as in You Can't Cheat an Honest Man and The Bank Dick), and while the characters he played were just as awful, Raskin's Junior comes off as a gleeful psychopath rather than a merely selfish lazy bum. Elmer's beating the boy near the end would come off today as politically incorrect were he not so deserving.
Video & Audio
Remastered in 2K from 35mm film elements held by the Library of Congress, Kino's Blu-ray of Running Wild looks very good, with pristine elements used most of the time, with only a few short bits reverting to film elements in lesser condition. Donald Sosin provides the good piano score, which probably for music licensing reasons does not excerpt the title tune, the popular song having been written in 1922 and covered ever since. The music track is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo and the disc is Region "A" encoded.
The lone supplement is an audio commentary track by historian James L. Neibaur, author of The W.C. Fields Films.
Ironically, Running Wild proved to be the most financially successful of Fields's silent starring films. It's not bad as a conventional, if admirably character-driven comedy but for Fields connoisseurs it deviates a bit too far from his later established film persona to really satisfy. But if Harold Lloyd had adapted the same story… Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.