A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Man With the Recalcitrant Hat

Million Dollar Legs (Edward F. Cline, 1932)
Susan Fleming, Jack Oakie, and W.C. Fields in Million Dollar Legs
Migg Tweeny: Jack Oakie
The President: W.C. Fields
The Major-Domo: Andy Clyde
Mata Machree: Lyda Roberti
Angela: Susan Fleming
Mysterious Man: Ben Turpin
Secretary of the Treasury: Hugh Herbert
Mr. Baldwin: George Barbier
Willie: Dickie Moore

Director: Edward F. Cline
Screenplay: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Henry Myers
Cinematography: Arthur L. Todd

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (Edward F. Cline, 1941)
W.C. Fields and Margaret Dumont in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break 
The Great Man: W.C. Fields
Gloria: Gloria Jean
The Producer: Franklin Pangborn
Mrs. Hemogloben: Margaret Dumont
Ouilotta Hemogloben: Susan Miller
The Rival: Leon Errol
The Waitress: Jody Gilbert
The Soda Jerk: Irving Bacon
The Producer's Wife: Mona Barrie
Butch: Billy Lenhart
Buddy: Kenneth Brown
The Cleaning Lady: Minerva Urecal

Director: Edward F. Cline
Screenplay: John T. Neville, Prescott Chaplin, W.C. Fields (as Otis Criblecoblis)
Cinematography: Charles Van Enger
Art direction: Jack Otterson
Film editing: Arthur Hilton
Music: Frank Skinner, Charles Previn

Was ever man so troubled by his hats? Million Dollar Legs and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break bracket W.C. Fields's career as a movie star (discounting his appearances in short subjects and in supporting roles in silent films and early talkies), and both begin with him struggling to manage a hat. It's a top hat in the earlier film, and it insists on having its own way, culminating in a familiar Fieldsian bit in which it rides behind him on the tip of his walking stick. In the later film, it's a straw boater whose lid comes to grief. Fields had crafted these hat tricks in vaudeville, and they remain one of the most endearing aspects of a potentially unlovable personality. Fields always managed to triumph over his own persona: Although Sucker finds him repellent in aspect, the broken veins of his nose and face unconcealable by any makeup artist, you can't help understanding why Gloria Jean, in an odd curtain line, proclaims her love for him. Both films are the apotheoses of the kind of sublime lunacy that emerged from his imagination, the former a surreal take on the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games, the latter an assault on the movie studios that tried (and usually failed) to stifle that imagination. Although Fields was surrounded in both films with superb comic talent -- Jack Oakie, Andy Clyde, Ben Turpin, Hugh Herbert, Franklin Pangborn, Margaret Dumont, Leon Errol -- they are dominated by him, braving it out through all reversals of fortune that may come his way. The greatest film comedians -- Buster Keaton, Charles Chaplin, the Marxes -- were similarly indomitable. The climax of Sucker is a spectacular car and firetruck chase that owes more to the direction of Edward F. Cline, veteran of the golden age of silent slapstick comedy, than to Fields, but we shall never see his like again.

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