WC Fields.

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Michael O'Regan

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WC Fields.

PostWed Jul 06, 2011 3:32 pm

Two of the funniest sequences I've seen in a long time - Last night, the pool-room sequence from SIX OF A KIND; Tonight, the golf sequence from YOU'RE TELLING ME.
:lol: :lol:

Fields got away with a lot on screen in terms of is attitude to alcohol, don't you think?
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FrankFay

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PostWed Jul 06, 2011 4:25 pm

I can laugh at those sequences because his actual drinking hadn't gotten the best of Fields yet. He still looks healthy and active. Between David Copperfield (1935) and Poppy he visibly ages and they used doubles for him in the later film. There's still a lot of funny stuff in his later films (The Bank Dick is great) but he goes from being an actor playing a character to a character playing a caricature.
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PostWed Jul 06, 2011 5:27 pm

FrankFay wrote:I can laugh at those sequences because his actual drinking hadn't gotten the best of Fields yet. He still looks healthy and active. Between David Copperfield (1935) and Poppy he visibly ages and they used doubles for him in the later film. There's still a lot of funny stuff in his later films (The Bank Dick is great) but he goes from being an actor playing a character to a character playing a caricature.


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PostWed Jul 06, 2011 6:18 pm

My favorite was always the Fields piece with Allison Skipworth in IF I HAD A MILLION (1932).

I had the 16mm Castle Films issue of that segment, and it always produced gales of laughter from an audience. Who wouldn't want to get even with "road hogs," and especially the way that Fields did it, complete with rude comments and under-the-breath asides? SETH
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W.C. Fields

PostWed Jul 06, 2011 6:54 pm

The juggling sequence from The Old Fashioned Way, the porch sequence from It's a Gift, the "road hog" routine with Alison Skipworth, and just about everything he does in Million Dollar Legs and International House . . . These are a few of my favorite things . . .

Oh, and don't forget the Sennett shorts. I have a Super-8 print of The Dentist, and when I run it for friends the infamous grappling sequence with Elise Cavanna leaves people in shock. They laugh, but in a tone of amazement, like they can't quite believe what they're seeing.

Fields' love of booze was never really the aspect of his comedy that appealed most to me, and in his last films, those cameo roles, the constant references can get monotonous. (Also, considering his obviously coarsened appearance, a little disconcerting.) As FrankFay notes above those gags play a lot better when he was still comparatively young, and also when he didn't rely on them quite so heavily.

In some respects my favorite Fields film, over all, is The Old Fashioned Way. Lots of funny material (Baby LeRoy at the dinner table, Jan Duggan singing the seashell song, etc. etc.), but also a fascinating slice of turn-of the-century theater history. I love it for the atmosphere. And the performance of "The Drunkard" is fun, too.

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Re: W.C. Fields

PostWed Jul 06, 2011 7:07 pm

Wm. Charles Morrow wrote:In some respects my favorite Fields film, over all, is The Old Fashioned Way. Lots of funny material (Baby LeRoy at the dinner table, Jan Duggan singing the seashell song, etc. etc.), but also a fascinating slice of turn-of the-century theater history. I love it for the atmosphere. And the performance of "The Drunkard" is fun, too.


I've read that play and while it's heavily cut they play it word for word straight- that "Home Sweet Home" tableau at the end is exactly what the stage directions call for. Only Fields really hams it up a bit, and that's completely understandable.
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Re: W.C. Fields

PostWed Jul 06, 2011 9:51 pm

Wm. Charles Morrow wrote:And the performance of "The Drunkard" is fun, too.

"The Drunkard" was also the basis for The Villain Still Pursued Her (1940) directed by Edward Cline, coincidentally around the time he also worked with Fields. A bizarre breaking-the-fourth-wall parody, this film may sometimes be too self-conscious to be funny, but I found it consistently interesting and the presence of Alan Mowbray and Buster Keaton does no harm.

Back to The Great Man: Nobody seems to have mentioned The Fatal Glass of Beer yet. (Speaking of melodrama parody...) This short seems to be one of those very divisive films that people either love or hate. I'm firmly in the fan base. And it ain't a fit night out for man nor beast.
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Re: W.C. Fields

PostThu Jul 07, 2011 12:19 am

Rollo Treadway wrote:
Back to The Great Man: Nobody seems to have mentioned The Fatal Glass of Beer yet. (Speaking of melodrama parody...) This short seems to be one of those very divisive films that people either love or hate. I'm firmly in the fan base. And it ain't a fit night out for man nor beast.


Yes, I like FATAL GLASS... too. I have a couple of nice 16s of this and THE PHARMACIST.
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Re: W.C. Fields

PostThu Jul 07, 2011 4:04 am

Rollo Treadway wrote:Back to The Great Man: Nobody seems to have mentioned The Fatal Glass of Beer yet. (Speaking of melodrama parody...) This short seems to be one of those very divisive films that people either love or hate. I'm firmly in the fan base. And it ain't a fit night out for man nor beast.


Love it. Always makes me laugh. It's pure Fields, though very much on his own wavelength. That's one project where he really didn't care if anybody else "gets it" or not. Two or three of the books on Fields reprint contemporary exhibitors' reports on the film, and they were all eloquent on the subject of how much they hated it. But for anyone attuned to what he was doing it's a stitch.

Incidentally, it seems that the contributions of Rosemary Theby, George Chandler and Richard Cramer are usually overlooked or taken for granted, but they all contribute a great deal to the success of this short.

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PostThu Jul 07, 2011 5:52 am

Parts of INTERNATIONAL HOUSE and SIX OF A KIND actually play like radio pieces, in particular the Burns and Allen stuff.
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PostThu Jul 07, 2011 6:04 am

For me, nothing beats Fields' complete abandonment of morality in THE BANK DICK. A masterpiece.
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PostThu Jul 07, 2011 10:11 am

Michael O'Regan wrote:Parts of INTERNATIONAL HOUSE and SIX OF A KIND actually play like radio pieces, in particular the Burns and Allen stuff.

Thanks for reminding me about INTERNATIONAL HOUSE, that's my #2 favorite piece. Although some of the variety numbers are forgettable, Fields really dominates his scenes and does a great job. The Pre-Code dialog also helps:

Spoken to Franklin Pangborn: "Don't let the posey fool ya!"

When Peggy Hopkins Joyce finds some kittens in Fields' biplane and asks him "I wonder what their parents were?" he replies "Careless, my dove, careless!" SETH
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Re: W.C. Fields

PostSun Jul 10, 2011 12:51 pm

Wm. Charles Morrow wrote:
In some respects my favorite Fields film, over all, is The Old Fashioned Way. Lots of funny material (Baby LeRoy at the dinner table, Jan Duggan singing the seashell song, etc. etc.), but also a fascinating slice of turn-of the-century theater history. I love it for the atmosphere. And the performance of "The Drunkard" is fun, too.

***********************************************************


I just watched THE OLD FASHIONED WAY this morning. The seashell song and Fields' reactions to it are laugh-out-loud funny.

I'm really enjoying this Fields set.
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PostSun Jul 10, 2011 2:43 pm

sethb wrote:
Michael O'Regan wrote:Parts of INTERNATIONAL HOUSE and SIX OF A KIND actually play like radio pieces, in particular the Burns and Allen stuff.

Thanks for reminding me about INTERNATIONAL HOUSE, that's my #2 favorite piece. Although some of the variety numbers are forgettable, Fields really dominates his scenes and does a great job. The Pre-Code dialog also helps:

Spoken to Franklin Pangborn: "Don't let the posey fool ya!"

When Peggy Hopkins Joyce finds some kittens in Fields' biplane and asks him "I wonder what their parents were?" he replies "Careless, my dove, careless!" SETH


It's more pointed than that. She's sitting on them:

"I'm sitting on something!"

"What, again???" (referring to the, um, cat bit from earlier)
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Re: W.C. Fields

PostSun Jul 10, 2011 2:58 pm

Michael O'Regan wrote:
Wm. Charles Morrow wrote:
In some respects my favorite Fields film, over all, is The Old Fashioned Way. Lots of funny material (Baby LeRoy at the dinner table, Jan Duggan singing the seashell song, etc. etc.), but also a fascinating slice of turn-of the-century theater history. I love it for the atmosphere. And the performance of "The Drunkard" is fun, too.

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I just watched THE OLD FASHIONED WAY this morning. The seashell song and Fields' reactions to it are laugh-out-loud funny.

I'm really enjoying this Fields set.


Isn't Jan Duggan great in that scene? I think it's worth mentioning that Fields was generous to his supporting players in sequences like that one. Some of the best moments in his films often go to his "regulars," like Kathleen Howard, Grady Sutton, Franklin Pangborn, etc. Like Jack Benny, Fields didn't seem to care who got the laughs, as long as they were there.

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Michael O'Regan

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PostSun Jul 10, 2011 3:32 pm

Isn't Jan Duggan great in that scene?


Indeed she is.
:D

How much creative input did Fields have on his films?
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PostSun Jul 10, 2011 3:50 pm

Michael O'Regan wrote:
Isn't Jan Duggan great in that scene?


Indeed she is.
:D

How much creative input did Fields have on his films?


On some of them quite a lot. He wrote quite a few of his scripts under such names as Charles Bogle, Otis Cribblecobbis and Mahatma Kane Jeeves. These were often developed from earlier Fields properties: "It's A Gift" incorporates material from several of his vaudeville sketches. "The Old Fashioned Way" is a rewriting of an earlier unproduced work "Playing the Sticks". A lot of this material can be found in "W.C. Fields By Himself" by Ronald Fields.
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PostSun Jul 10, 2011 3:54 pm

FrankFay wrote:
Michael O'Regan wrote:
Isn't Jan Duggan great in that scene?


Indeed she is.
:D

How much creative input did Fields have on his films?


On some of them quite a lot. He wrote quite a few of his scripts under such names as Charles Bogle, Otis Cribblecobbis and Mahatma Kane Jeeves. These were often developed from earlier Fields properties: "It's A Gift" incorporates material from several of his vaudeville sketches. "The Old Fashioned Way" is a rewriting of an earlier unproduced work "Playing the Sticks". A lot of this material can be found in "W.C. Fields By Himself" by Ronald Fields.


Thanks. That rings a bell.

Back during my own drinking days I read MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE by Simon Louvish. I'm ashamed to admit I've forgotten most of it. :D

Perhaps it's time to give it another go.
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W.C. Fields

PostSun Jul 10, 2011 4:00 pm

Michael O'Regan wrote:How much creative input did Fields have on his films?


Fields usually wrote a lot of his own material -- or rewrote what he was given. He often reworked material from his stage career, from various revues he appeared in during the 1910s and '20s. The James Curtis biography gives a good sense of the extent of his contributions, and is especially of interest where The Old Fashioned Way is concerned. Fields turned in a script made up of his own routines, but it was found that it wasn't enough material for a feature film, so Paramount brought in a writer named Jack Cunningham to beef it up. (Cunningham had a interesting track record as a screenwriter, everything from Westerns like The Covered Wagon to several Douglas Fairbanks vehicles.) Apparently it was Cunningham's idea to add the show-within-a-show version of The Drunkard, as well as Fields' juggling act. The two men hit it off, and Cunningham worked on several subsequent Fields vehicles.

I guess the short answer to your question is that Fields contributed a lot of material to his films, but needed a good story editor to help him make it work.

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PostSun Jul 10, 2011 4:16 pm

Part of it was that Fields was accustomed to working in short routines, with exceptions of things like the play POPPY- which he did not write though he contributed material to his own part. His shorts like The Dentist and The Druggist are in part straight records of how he did them on stage. The radio version of The Druggist is quite amusing as Fields breaks the 4th wall several times- after a foley effect of footsteps on stairs he mutters "that running effect was very good..."
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PostSun Jul 10, 2011 8:13 pm

Speaking of Mr. Fields and radio, his weekly appearances on the Chase & Sanborn Hour with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy during the 1937-38 season provided much-needed employment while he recovered from his near-death experience with the dts. He was kept in reserve until the beginning of the second half-hour to keep listeners from turning the dial to competing programs. Fields revised the material he was given by the show's writers much as he did with film scripts.

Unfortunately, the "persona" he was required to play was a comical drunkard and, worse, under his own name. Host Don Ameche was constantly saying, "Pull yourself together Bill," and seemed to be prompting Fields to stay with the script. Of course, had Fields been tipsy he never would have been allowed on the air. We also know that during this time Fields had stopped drinking so it must have been ironic for him to parody a lifestyle that almost killed him and had abandoned, at least for the moment.

Privately, Fields said he found radio work stressful because he had only an eight-minute segment in which to score big with the audience. By the early 1940s when his health was seriously declining he again turned to radio work for employment. Ronald Fields' book on his grandfather provides correspondence where Fields responds to radio producers rejecting his inquiries for work. Judging from Fields' response, he was turned down on the pretext that he changed his lines from the dialogue in the "approved" scripts. Fields defended himself by pointing out that other stars such as Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor hired their own personal writers who likewise revised the scripts. The only difference with Fields was that he proposed changes himself and always submitted his revision for approval.

My impression is that the producers were simply afraid to put Fields on live radio given his reputation by then. Only Edgar Bergen continued to hire him for his show. I recall Bergen on the Merv Griffin show in the 1970s discussing his experiences with Fields. Apparently, the two men were sympatico and Bergen pointed out that Fields changed only his own lines and left others' material alone. Bergen said he found Fields' revisions better than what the show's writers provided and he personally expedited script approval. It's ashame that Fields didn't live longer because his humor did not rely on youthfulness and he would have been terrific on live TV.
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Re: W.C. Fields

PostSun Jul 10, 2011 8:56 pm

Rollo Treadway wrote:
Wm. Charles Morrow wrote:And the performance of "The Drunkard" is fun, too.

"The Drunkard" was also the basis for The Villain Still Pursued Her (1940) directed by Edward Cline, coincidentally around the time he also worked with Fields. A bizarre breaking-the-fourth-wall parody, this film may sometimes be too self-conscious to be funny, but I found it consistently interesting and the presence of Alan Mowbray and Buster Keaton does no harm.

Back to The Great Man: Nobody seems to have mentioned The Fatal Glass of Beer yet. (Speaking of melodrama parody...) This short seems to be one of those very divisive films that people either love or hate. I'm firmly in the fan base. And it ain't a fit night out for man nor beast.


There was a 1935 film of The Drunkard by Weiss Productions. I has a bunch of silent film people in it, some, like Clara Kimball Young and Bryant Washburn, in a framing sequence about putting on the play. The story proper stars, ironically, James Murray. Other silent folks appearing include Snub Pollard, Victor Potel, Vera Steadman, Rosemary Theby, and Gertrude Astor. It's interesting.

greta (p.s., I love of A Fatal Glass of Beer!)
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Jan Duggan- The Bowery Nightingale (1881-1977)

PostSun Feb 05, 2017 7:07 pm

W. C. Fields saw Duggan in The Drunkard's L A production, cast her in The Old Fashioned Way and played with her in 4 of her subsequent 35 films; Duggan's other co-stars in her film career included Will Rogers, William Powell & Jean Harlow, Andy Clyde, The Ritz Brothers, Astaire, Burns & Allen....
She was in The Drunkard with Neely Edwards for at least ten years (see 2nd image).
(Click images for images even bigger)
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Re: WC Fields.

PostMon Feb 06, 2017 6:49 am

Speaking of THE DRUNKARD, here is a rare production-edition (most copies showcase Rudy Vallee) of the famous song from the show, "There is a Tavern in the Town". If you look at the extreme right, you'll see among the cast Henry Kleinbach, who was seen in the show by Hal Roach and was then cast as Barnaby in BABES IN TOYLAND. Kleinbach soon thereafter changed his name to Henry Brandon.

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Re: WC Fields.

PostMon Feb 06, 2017 8:58 am

So glad to read this thread. I liked everything he did, including the sad deleted sequence from TALES OF MANHATTAN. Of course, IT'S A GIFT is my all time favorite. "That's a weed, you idiot!"

Happy that Universal released W.C. FIELDS COMEDY ESSENTIALS COLLECTION (18 films, 5 discs) that includes all of their Paramount/Universal Fields holdings (except the guest shot in FOLLOW THE BOYS). It can still be had for about $40. Despite cramming so many movies on 5 discs, it looks quite good given that most of the films are rather short in running times. MRS. WIGGS looks pretty rough, but it always has (at least, Universal's print does).
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Re: WC Fields.

PostMon Feb 06, 2017 9:08 am

I just purchased and watched Mississippi last week. I had enjoyed it years ago and wanted to revisit.
It had more Bing Crosby songs than I remembered. Fields controls some entertainers on a riverboat and Bing joins him. Fields tells everyone who will listen how he used his Bowie knife to fight some indians, carving through a wall of human flesh. I found that delightful as a child, and still do, somewhat, because he's a coward later on. Joan Bennett is beautiful, still a blonde at this point.

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Re: WC Fields.

PostMon Feb 06, 2017 2:18 pm

Godfrey Daniels! Here's a thread I didn't know about Oh, yes, indeedy, The Great Man, Wonderful. My peregrinations around the celluloid have given forth to many moments of uncontrollable mirth. In short, he has been very funny. Drubbing, drubbing. Look at "International House" - why, that picture doesn't really take-off until the Great Man appears, and then, when he does appear, it's just a constant stream of sight gags that leave me in stitches. (No, I don't know Carl La Fong, and if I did, I wouldn't admit it!)

Keep your eye on the ball. Hand me that club would you..... that Indian club, no, no..... give me that Canadian Club.

I suppose having been on the stage as a silent act, Fields knew from the outset how important a little "bit of business" could be, and the fact that he was a juggler, lead to many of these little 'bits' being hilarious. Combine that with his rather arcane delivery of dialogue and you come up with something quite unique. I for one have never failed to delight in that bit of business he does with his hat where he manages to pop it on to the end of his cane rather than his head. As to his dialogue - I think we owe a lot of that to Charles Dickens as Fields read him fervently in his youth. "And now Madame, I will sink my pink and lily white body in yonder tub. I feel a mite gritty after the affairs of the day". Who else would say this instead of "I'm going to have a bath."?

All of Fields pictures give the average male an invitation to become the persona they see on the screen albeit fleetingly - but doing all the things they wish they could do in real life. His characters are never completely honest, "I like you Mayor - I voted for you in the last election - five times!" Nor are they likable, but somewhere, deep down, there seems to be a soft spot. Hard to find, admittedly. Perhaps Fields moulded a character that was based on truth? We are all flawed.

"Come over to the bar, the music sounds a lot better from there."

I think that audiences either hated or loved Fields. Those that loved him felt that he was the perfect anti-establishment figure and the very antithesis of the "nice people" usually portrayed in a lot of Hollywood pictures. He was refreshing. He had so many foibles that it was a case of identifying with the one you found mostly was your own. Those that hated him were worried because his misanthropy and lack of values could become contagious.

I can watch the Great Man over and over again and never tire of him. I see something new at every viewing. I delight in the way he put it over. To my mind he was one of a kind, probably one of the greatest comedians who has ever graced the screen.

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Re: WC Fields.

PostMon Feb 06, 2017 3:44 pm

Donald Binks wrote:"I don't know why I come in here. The flies get the best of everything. Go away. Shoo."


It baffles science!

Jim
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Re: W.C. Fields

PostTue Feb 07, 2017 9:19 am

Wm. Charles Morrow wrote:
Rollo Treadway wrote:Nobody seems to have mentioned The Fatal Glass of Beer yet.

Incidentally, it seems that the contributions of Rosemary Theby, George Chandler and Richard Cramer are usually overlooked or taken for granted, but they all contribute a great deal to the success of this short.

Saw this as a kid, I think it was on PBS's Matinee at the Bijou weekend TV show, and I've been a George Chandler fan ever since, it's always a treat to see him pop up in one bit part or another, and there seems to be no end to them. Most recently it was as a reporter for about 10 seconds in the Myrna Loy picture Man-Proof. At 460 credits, he's only got slightly more than half of Bess Flowers number (888), but he's got to be up there in the pantheon of bit players.
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Re: WC Fields.

PostThu Feb 09, 2017 8:35 am

My book The W.C. Fields Films comes out in May. New info on the lost films, new assessments of the more recently discovered silents, and fresh assessments of the noted talkies.

I was surprised to discover that THE GOLF SPECIALIST is actually not his first appearance in a sound film as has been reported everywhere else.

Rare photos too, including some never published in other sources.

The book is available for pre-order at amazon.com

Right now I am doing a book on the Andy Clyde shorts for Columbia, and his two- reeler ANDY PLAYS HOOKEY is pretty much a 20 minute version of Fields' MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE (Clyde Bruckman is credited as screenwriter). It isn't so much a remake of TOO MANY HIGHBALLS, the Lloyd Hamilton short originally prepared for Fields that was the genesis of the MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE concept. It really is the feature whittled down to fit a two-reeler's parameters.

Of the Fields films that remain lost, I'd really like to see the ones in which he works with Chester Conklin. They're supposed to be substandard, but they still sound intriguing. They both appear in the reworking of TILLIE'S PUNCTURED ROMANCE (which was not really a remake, it goes in a different direction entirely). In 1932, producer Charles R. Rogers bought the rights to the original Mack Sennett version, and the camera negative for the remake was tossed in as part of the deal. Rogers had no interest in the newer version, then only four years old, and obviously did not have the foresight that this fairly recent box office flop would have any future historical interest. It is unknown as to what Rogers did with the negative.

JN
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