Here we go, five W.C. Fields movies, and the range of the collection should be very pleasingto fans. The earliest feature here is 1933’s International House. This uses the slightpremise of a crowd of eccentric characters assembled in a Shanghai hotel to see a new invention(a television, here called a “radioscope”) to showcase a parade of comic and music stars, amongthem Fields, but also George Burns and Gracie Allen, Cab Calloway, and that supreme master ofcom…c cinema, Bela Lugosi (flippancy aside, it’s fun to see Bela in a comic role).
It’s a Gift (1934) is one of Fields’ most highly regarded efforts, and here he is themuch put-upon pater familias who receives a small inheritance, and picks up stakes to move tosunny California. Much slapstick ensues, and Fields has his classic run-ins with Baby LeRoy.
You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man (1939) is a film that Fields himself thought little of,once the studio got through with it. The film remains interesting from a historical perspective, asFields shares the lead with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy (Bergen is the good-guyventriloquist vying for the hand of ringmaster Fields’ daughter), and still has some classicroutines.
My Little Chickadee (1940) may be the most famous title, but it isn’t necessarily thebest Fields movie. This comic Western sees our man hook up with Mae West, who has been runout of town for consorting with a bandit. Fields does what he does best, but West feels somehowdefanged, and more tiresome than funny.
The Bank Dick (1940) returns Fields to the role of long-suffering family man, whohere sees the potential for escape when a film company comes to town. There are also bankbandits to foil. The plot may be haphazard, but this late-period comedy has Fields in fine child-hating form (the escalation of physical warfare with his young daughter is one goodexample).
All five films are presented in 2.0 mono. The sound is as good as one could expect fromfilms that near or past seventy years of age. There is some gurgle to the music now and then, butoverall, this is clean sound, and we have mercifully been spared ill-advised stereo remixes.
Again, age is a factor here, and some prints are grainier than others (The Bank Dickdoesn’t look quite as sharp as My Little Chickadee, for instance). The prints are generallyin very good shape (very close to pristine, in fact), with very little dirt or damage. Quite honestly,one doubts that they could look much better than this.
For a collection featuring one of Hollywood’s legends, the extras are disappointingly slight.There are theatrical trailers for all but The Bank Dick and It’s a Gift, and the discfor You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man has the A&E Biography “W.C. Fields: Behind theLaughter.” Nothing wrong with this inclusion, and it does the job, but this is not a TV showthat’s going to take you into great depth. The menus are basic.
Not much by way of extras, but this is still a very worthwhile collection.
Special Features List
- “W.C. Fields: Behind the Laughter” A&E Biography
- Theatrical Trailers