THE THREE BEST FILMS OF W.C. FIELDS-Part Three
No. 1: IT’S A GIFT (1934)
I love movies, but I am an old movie fiend-classic movies, near classic movies, not-so-classic movies, black and white and color. I became addicted to movies from the age of seven in the forties and when television came along in the early fifties I spent most of my TV viewing the late show, before advent of Jack Paar and later Johnny Carson, immersed in movies made in the thirties and forties. Much later, when video tape technology came along, I began to compile my collection of my favorite movies and continued the collection with the advent of DVD and now digital downloads. My collection, most of which I have viewed countless times, includes practically every classic and near classic movie produced by Hollywood. The purpose of these hubs is to share my addiction so that others can begin their collection and become just as addicted as I am.
Anyone who watches this film and does not roll on the floor laughing probably died before being shown the movie. Between the times I watched it on television, at W.C. Fields revivals at my university and after I added a copy to my collection of films, I must have seen this film at least fifty times and laughed just as loudly the last time I watched it as the first time. I have shown it to visitors to my house who had never seen a Fields film, and they laughed just as hard as I did and demanded to see it again.
It’s a Gift was produced in 1934 when Fields was still in his prime in timing and movements. As in Man on the Flying Trapeze, Fields plays against stereotype, playing a common man who is hen-pecked by his wife, aggravated by his kids and has dreams of other things. Yet, Fields is more the centerpiece of this movie than he was in Man on the Flying Trapeze. He appears in every scene and in every scene he is nothing less than hilarious.
In this film Fields plays Harold Bissonette (pronounced bis-on-ay, as he frequently reminds people) a hen-picked husband with an aggravating young son who leaves one of his skates around, causing Harold to fall down the stairs, and an older daughter who is in love with a real estate salesman. Harold owns a small grocery store and whose best customer is a woman with a little boy (Baby Leroy) from hell.
“What do you have in the way of steaks?’ she asks. “Nothing in the way of steaks, I can get right to them.” Harold replies.
The boy from hell turns on the faucet to the barrel of molasses, which spills all over the store floor. Harold has to close the store and puts a sign in the door that says, Closed on Account of Molasses. As he closes the door, he says, “That’s the spreadingest stuff I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Harold has his heart set on buying an orange grove in California. He has a picture of the ideal grove that he takes out and gazes at and dreams about. Finally, when his uncle Beam dies and leaves him a little money, he takes the plunge and buys an orange grove. He sells the store, much to his wife’s disapproval, and moves the family to California. When he arrives at his property, he finds that it is nothing but an old shack and dead orange trees.
There are many very funny scenes and routines in this movie. There is Harold’s attempt to get to sleep on the front porch in a rickety swing, a routine that Fields perfected in vaudeville. While on their journey to California, they stop to have lunch at a park, which they do not realize is private property. They make a mess with their picnic, and it is made worse when Harold gets in a tussle with his dog. He takes a pillow to swing at the dog, which grabs the pillow and causes the feather inside to fly all over the place. Harold’s wife exclaims, “Oh, and my mother finest feathers!” Fields stops his battle with the dog and says, “I didn’t know your mother had feathers.” And when they get to their property in California and his wife sees what a disappointment it is, she takes the children and walks away. Harold, dejected, only has his dog remaining with him. He sits down on the running board of his old car and it completely collapses under him. He then turns to the dog and says, “When it goes, it all goes at once.”
But the funniest routine in the movie is when Fields pushes the envelope of comedy and has a blind and deaf man come into his store. “Open the door for Mr. Muckle!” he shouts at his half-wit assistant, who is too late to prevent the blind from crashing through the glass door with his cane. Harold’s attempt to get Mr. Muckle to please sit down and not destroy everything in the store with his swinging cane is about the funniest thing ever put on film.
No serious collector of old comedy movies can omit the movies of W.C. Fields and no collector of Fields films could possible omit It’s a Gift, the best and funniest of them all.