“This script is an insult to man’s intelligence. Even mine!” Never Give a Sucker an Even Break – Best Pictures of 1941 (#10)

It’s time to begin my look at the best of 1941…

This is one of the weirdest, most surreal comedies to have been churned out of the Hollywood assembly line. W.C. Fields plays a version of himself, only billed as The Great Man, and that is about all I can say about the movie with any certainty. Fields spends most of the picture supporting his opera singing niece Gloria Jean and trying to sell a nonsensical script to The Producer (Franklin Pangborn), a big shot (maybe the head?) at Esoteric Studios. Much of the film replays the script as Fields imagines it complete with an open air observation deck on an airplane, an idyllic Russian village, and an isolated mountain home where the imposing Mrs. Hemoglobin (Margaret Dumont) has hidden away her beautiful young daughter away from the corrupting influence of men.

 

W.C. Fields and Gloria Jean

If none of this makes sense, not much in the rest of the picture does either. Like why would Producer Pangborn want Gloria Jean to sing a snooze-inducing operatic aria for his film? I don’t think, even in 1942, that opera was a hot commodity in film. (Of course it is Esoteric Studios.) Or could a even a super soft bed really break Fields’ fall from an airplane? Or if the food is so bad at Fields’ regular diner, why does he go there? Or why is there a gorilla in the mountains of the Russian village? And why does no one seem to be Russian there?

None of these questions matter, nor do they detract from the fun. In fact, they might even enhance the experience. What we are seeing is the ultimate W.C. Fields absurdist comedy. He’s throwing in all the stops as though he was aware that he didn’t have much time left and any idea he had better be used now. (This would be his last film.) Fields wasn’t hamstrung by the usual conditions of plot or character, but opted for a more free flowing situational comedy, set specifically in a world that makes no sense.

 

"I was only trying to guess your weight!" W.C. Fields in "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break"

This strategy could have backfired, resulting in a burdensome mess, but Fields packs in enough genuinely funny gags and routines that we relishing the nonsensical plot. Especially funny is a scene where Fields sits at a soda fountain counter then turns to the camera and says, “This scene’s supposed to be in a saloon but the censor cut it out.” But don’t worry, he assures us, “It’ll play just as well this way.” He goes on to wrestle with getting a scoop of ice cream from his glass to his mouth, but the straws he uses to scoop out the ice cream bends away from his mouth. He also has a wonderful scene in a diner with a waitress who finds him insultingly unfunny. Their banter is classic W.C. Fields comedy. “And another thing,” the chunky waitress admonishes, “Don’t be so free with your hands.” Fields replies: “Listen, honey. I was only trying to guess your weight. You take things too seriously.”

There are many W.C. Fields movie I love and though this one may not be the best, it certainly ranks high up there for its inventiveness, its audacity, and, most importantly, its hilarity.

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under 1941, Yearly Best Pictures

6 responses to ““This script is an insult to man’s intelligence. Even mine!” Never Give a Sucker an Even Break – Best Pictures of 1941 (#10)

  1. This is quite an amazing film, and you really do get the feeling from it that Fields knew his time on screen was up so he decided he’d better go out on as wild a note as possible. Apparently Universal cut the film before release to tone it down, so I can only wonder how much wackier the original version was.

    • I hadn’t realized that the studio cut the film, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. It would be great to see the original cut, but I’m sure what was cut has been lost. Thanks for stopping by and commenting! Hope to hear from you again in the future.

  2. Jon

    Yes so we’re on to 1941! WC Fields was always pretty wacky, but even by his standards, this one is out there. I do love that soda shop scene.

  3. Terrific choice here Jason! Just saw this a few weeks back again, and must say it holds up as one of Fields’s finest! Certainly it won a deserving berth here, and great supportive essay to boot!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s