Saturday, January 9, 2010

Chris 2010 Viewings #4: Never Give a Sucker an Even Break

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break was W.C. Fields' last starring role. The plot is not too far from the real life situation at the time: Fields is a screen star, having trouble getting the studio executives interested in his fanciful scripts and film ideas, they being more interested in turning his niece Gloria Jean into the next Deanna Durbin. The only thing not consistent with reality is that Gloria Jean wasn't really his niece.

There is a lot of delightful stuff in NGaSaEB, especially Fields' sparring matches with a diner waitress and with studio head Franklin Pangborn. The bulk of the film is given over to an enactment of the script Fields wants the studio to make: an adventures story in which Fields leaps out of an airplane after a bottle of whiskey and lands in a mountaintop villa populated by favourite Marx Brother foil Margaret Dumont, her befanged mastiffs, and her beautiful daughter, who has never seen a man before. He endeavours to woo her.

Simon Louvish's Fields bio The Man on the Flying Trapeze features a sizable helping of memos from the studio regarding the production of NGaSaEB. Given the absurdity of much of it (at one point Fields compains onscreen that they weren't allowed to set the scene in a saloon), as well as Universal's inclination to freeze out Fields in favour of their new pets, Abbot & Costello, it's easy to regard this production as the great man's final raspberry at the industry.

Alas, with pleasure there must come pain, and there is so very, very much of Gloria Jean in this film. Three musical numbers (in one of which she and the M.D. feign boredom with the studio-imposed song - imagine how we must feel!) in the first half-hour alone. Worth watching? If you're a Fields fan, absolutely; if you're curious, have your fast-forward at the ready, and you'll get a glimpse of how weird a studio feature could get circa 1941.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gloria Jean was a nice kid with a decent voice, but certainly not another Deanna Durbin!!