Saturday, August 27, 2011

W. C. Fields was a gift

I’m still going through online issues of Life magazine from the post-War era, the period into which we Baby Boomers were born.

W. C. Fields died almost 65 years ago, on Christmas Day, 1946. This movie, It’s A Gift, from 1934, is 77 years old, still very funny. Do kids today appreciate Fields’ humor? They should, but my impression is that kids today have a whole other sense of humor, one based on how outrageous and gross the comic can get.

The advantage of many old-time comedians like Fields is that before they went into movies they had years to perfect their timing, jokes and sketches in vaudeville. It shows in the precision of his comic delivery. The description in the article of the Fields’ crooked cue stick, and his story of the man with the glass eye, made me laugh just reading it. Fields was funny without dropping f-bombs into his act. It helps to make his humor timeless. I wonder how many of today’s comics that will be said of 77 years from now? I believe at that time people will still find W. C. Fields funny.

Here’s one of my favorite scenes from the movie. The whole sequence is timed perfectly, uses a blend of visual humor and sound effects, with funny dialogue. My favorite part is Fields’ scene with T. Roy Barnes, the exuberant annuity salesman with the “Carl La Fong” exchange.



DEMiller said...

I enjoyed your piece on Fields very much. I agree with your conclusions about comics from the past compared to todays. "It's A Gift" is one of my top 10 favorite comedy films of all time. A simple tale, but played beautifully. The "Carl LaFong" scene is hard to watch because I laugh so hard it hurts.

El Postino said...

I feel the same about Carl La Fong. I love how the actor enunciates the name, Carrrl Law Fong, with a little twist on "Fong" to make it funnier. I wonder how much Fields had to do with that. Maybe he coached him. He was wonderful with funny names.

Besides that, there are a couple of great lines, among them:

Salesman, about La Fong: "I hear he's a railroad man, gets up early in the morning."

Harold Bissonette (Fields): "Well, then, he's a chump."

Kirk said...

WC Fields may not have used gross-out humor or dropped the F-bomb but he was certainly outrageous for his day. In fact, even by our day. Remember, there's a scene in "It's a Gift" that shows a blind man comically trying to cross the street. Frankly, I suspect it was the censor (especially after 1934, when the production code was beefed up) that kept Fields in line, not his own sense of propriety. He made fun of propriety. That was his stock in trade

El Postino said...

I'm sure Fields voiced oaths stronger than "Godfrey Daniel!" in his private life. You are right, the code most likely reined in Fields lest he go over the line, especially in scenes with Mae West.

Making fun of people's physical problems wasn't considered off limits. I wince when I see that scene with the blind man swinging his cane, but like insensitive racial characterizations it was of its time.

Thanks for your comment, Kirk.