Monday, January 2, 2012

Stubs - The Bank Dick

THE BANK DICK (1940) Starring: W.C.Fields, Cora Witherspoon, Una Merkel, Evelyn Del Rio, Shemp Howard. Directed by Edward F. Cline. Written by Mahatma Kane Jeeves (W.C. Fields). Run Time: 69 minutes. Black and White. U.S. Comedy

I like to think of myself as a fan of all sorts of movie comedies. Even ones made for audiences other than myself. I love Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Bros., Laurel & Hardy, etc. One comedic star of yesteryear that I had never been exposed to, and partly by choice, was W.C. Fields. While I know of him, his persona and have seen people imitate him for years, I had never watched a W.C. Fields film all the way through nor had I really wanted to. But recently, I got around to watching THE BANK DICK, which had been featured some time back on Turner Classic Movies, a channel I love and respect, as an Essential. So who am I to avoid an essential film? But after watching THE BANK DICK, I can honestly say, I don’t see what all the fuss is about.

The story, written by Fields under a different name, is definitely designed to take advantage of the W.C. Fields character, a henpecked drunkard, who doesn’t like hard work or children. Egbert Sousé (Fields) is a man with no obvious means of support, who spends too much time at the Black Pussy Cat Café. He has a wife, two daughters and a mother-in-law who is living with him. Every morning, he leaves home, presumably on his way to the Black Pussy Cat Café, where Joe (Shemp Howard) is the bartender, and whatever happens to him there is the plot of the story.

One day, in the bar, he meets a Hollywood producer who is in town making a movie, but the director is too drunk to continue. So he hires Sousé on Sousé’s own recommendation (If only it was that easy to get a job in Hollywood). Sousé also just happens to have a story idea on him, which he passes on to the producer. However, when Sousé starts directing, the set turns into anarchy and it seems like the idea is forgotten in favor of the next bit.

Later, he is credited with catching one of two bank robbers, though in reality, he had nothing to do with it. But the publicity lands him a job as the bank dick, read that as guard, with the promise of executive advancement. On his way to work, at the Black Pussy Cat Café, he runs into a swindler with what the swindler thinks is worthless mining stock, which Sousé convinces Og Oggilby (Grady Sutton) a functionary at the bank and Sousé’s eldest daughter’s fiancée, to embezzle $500 to pay for it.

However, since this a comedy everything works out for Fields: the mining stock actually pays off, the producer sells Sousé’s story to his boss back in Hollywood, and there is also that reward money for “capturing” the first bank robber. But before he can get the money the second bank robber has returned to rob the bank again. Having stolen the mining stock, along with other money, he kidnaps Sousé. A frantic, supposedly funny, car chase ensues with the police, the producer and the bank chasing after them throughout the countryside. The second bank robber is foiled.

Suddenly wealthy, Sousé does what he does every day. He gets up from the breakfast table and goes out into the world. And once on the street, who does he see but Joe the bartender and Sousé runs to catch up to him.

At 69 minutes, THE BANK DICK seems long. While there are some laughs in the film, overall, it is not really all that funny. There are signature bits, like Field’s habit of putting his hat on things other than his head, like hooks and canes, but seeing it once is funnier than several viewings. He also repeats a trick of throwing a piece of balled up paper over his shoulder and kicking it with the bottom of his foot. (This is a bit I had seen Chaplin do many times in movies before.) And his mannerisms, like washing his fingers in the water that’s supposed to be a drunk as a chaser, is unusual, but not laugh out loud funny.

Perhaps Fields is an acquired taste. But after seeing this film, I’m not really tempted to watch others. Or maybe he’s like the Three Stooges, something you watch with the occasional lapse of brilliance, but which you outgrow over time as your tastes get more sophisticated. Since I’ve never watched him before, I can’t say that’s what happened to me. Or maybe he’s something not everyone gets. If that’s the case, then I’m in the last category.

If W.C.Fields is supposed to be a genius, then it is wasted on me.

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