I found myself at my old stomping ground tonight — introducing the classic film screening at the local library. The movie was It’s a Gift, starring W.C. Fields. I admit that my knowledge and exposure to W.C. Fields is limited. I’ve only seen a few movies here and there over the years.
In It’s a Gift, Fields is Harold Bisonnette (that’s pronouned BIS-ON-AY) a New Jersey grocer who spends his inheritance on a Californian orange grove. Despite the objections of his wife (Kathleen Howard) and children, they drive the 3,000 miles cross country. The plot though is less than important; it is the bits and gags that make It’s a Gift (or any Fields’ movie) worth watching. My favorite is a sequence set in the grocery store as Bisonnette tries to manage a customer demanding kumquats as a blind customer wrecks the store. (This scene also reminds me of the opening sequence of Bringing Up Baby when Cary Grant repeatedly shouts, “I’ll be with you in a minute Mr. Peabody!”)
I realized as I watched this scene unfold that Fields’ humor and style isn’t flashy. I find that refreshing nowadays. That being said I’m also fascinated by Fields’ vaudeville routines that often appear in his films and are in some ways the very definition of flashy.
A quick search on YouTube also led me to find this collection of three W.C. Fields’ shorts, including The Golf Specialist (1930).
What are your thoughts on W.C. Fields? Where does he rank on your list of greatest screen comics? What other movies or biographies should I check out? Let me know in the comments.