Kumquats! – On W.C. Fields

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.

What Should I Watch Tonight?

It is another night without cable for me. Fortunately, a solid selection of my DVDs have been transported to Boston so I finally have something to watch. But just what movie am I going to watch?

I’m having some issues deciding what movie I should watch tonight. I’ve narrowed it down to five and the best reason I can think of to watch it. Maybe you can help me out from here.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Why: Because once upon a time Abigail Breslin was adorable. (I also have not seen this, I think, since it was released.)

Stage Door (1937)

Why: It’s a great early Katharine Hepburn movie that also stars Lucille Ball and Ginger Rogers.

Annie Hall (1977)

Why: I watched Whatever Works this morning and I could go for a really good Woody Allen movie now.

To Have or Have Not (1944)

Why: Lauren Bacall. Bogie. This scene. Need I show you anything more?

Garden State (2004)

Why: In honor of my upcoming return to New Jersey, I should rewatch a movie that filmed in my hometown.

There you have it. Have any other suggestions that might tip the scale in one movie’s favor?

Watching Breathless, Now Instead of Earlier

Last night I revealed something on Twitter, the site for some of my darkest revelations these days, that I have never publicly admitted.

You might be curious: How did I go through four years of film classes and never see Breathless until after I graduated? (Or maybe I am wondering this about myself and I am just subjecting you to my justification of this fact.)

I have endlessly studied Godard and the French New Wave. No one who enters into any acceptable film program can avoid these movies. Breathless was just never assigned viewing. Instead other French New Wave films – Agnes Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7, Godard’s Vivre sa Vie, Truffaut’s The 400 Blows – were. As things happen when you are in college, some movies just take precedence and others slip past your radar until you finally are presented with the opportunity to watch it. That is how I happened to finally watch Breathless years after I should have.

I knew what to expect from Breathless having seen segments in several classes. In many ways, I also knew what I was supposed to think. That is the effect of a film degree. There are certain films and movements, such as the French New Wave and Italian Neorealism, that you study and are just expected to regurgitate why they are significant. These two films movements, after all, are arguably the two most influential movements in world cinema and if you don’t know about them, then you don’t know about the cinema.

A friend wisely pointed out that I have been a bit brainwashed by academia. This friend (hi Jen!) also has some pointed opinions on Breathless. She had, in some ways, the ideal situation of seeing Breathless (the new print no less!) with a limited prior knowledge about Godard’s film. I had the exact opposite experience.

Now that I have seen Breathless in its entirety and adored it, I wonder what is the ideal way to Breathless? A limited knowledge of the film, theoretically, allows you to critique it from a fresh perspective. Or, as I saw it, knowing everything there is to know, having read all the theory and having seen it in bits and pieces, here and there. Here’s the thing. I hardly see myself as brainwashed by academia. I just know a lot about the history of certain movements, which only enhances how I read films.

As you have gathered by now this isn’t any sort of review of Breathless. There is no way I can really break down Breathless after just one viewing.

Instead I’ll just leave you with this comment from Scott’s examination of Breathless from May: “Breathless is a pop artifact and a daring work of art, made at a time when the two possibilities existed in a state of almost perfect convergence. That is the source of its uniqueness. Much as it may have influenced what was to come later, there is still nothing else quite like it.”

What are your thoughts on Breathless? Sound off below.

A Date Night with The Thin Man

I went into Date Night not expecting that much. I knew (or hoped) that Tina Fey and Steve Carell would make a great comedy pairing. I was concerned, however, that their respective television characters (Liz Lemon and Michael Scott) would outshine their roles in this film. Sometimes that happened; when two actors portray two of the most recognizable characters on television that comparison is impossible to avoid.

I ended up enjoying Date Night, even though it could have been so much more. But what occurred to me midway through the movie was that Phil and Claire Foster are no Nick and Nora Charles.

Date Night is one of the better attempts to update the screwball comedy. But it relies heavily on genre conventions (of other genres that is) to carry out a sort-of funny story. Maybe I’m old-fashioned or just completely mesmerized by Myrna Loy (probably a bit of both) but dialogue like “…And will you, for the love of God, put on a f-ing shirt?” just is not funny to me. I’d much rather watch Loy and William Powell banter all day.

No matter what screwball comedy comes next, The Thin Man still does it best. Unless, of course, Fey and Carell pair up again, but for a wittier, sharper, and less contrived movie. Then Nick and Nora might have found their present-day equivalent.