Friday, 8 January 2010

Never Give A Sucker An Even Break (1941)

A season of W.C. Fields films takes place at BFI Southbank this month: the perfect antidote to any manifestations of S.A.D that you may be experiencing. I saw Fields's movies for the first time last year and was delighted by them, in particular the brilliantly bizarre Never Give A Sucker An Even Break (1941) - surely one of the most surreal and inventive comedies ever to come out of a major Hollywood studio. The movie is, in part, a satire on movies: it's structured as Fields's pitch to a producer (superb Franklin Pangborn). The screenplay Fields presents is a dog story shaggier than any dreamed up by the Monty Python boys or the Coen Bros: it involves Fields and his niece Gloria Jean's adventures in a Russian mountain village. Absurdist anarchy reigns but the film never becomes tiresome and just gets wilder and funnier as it builds to a truly spectacular slapstick car-chase climax. Highlights include Fields jumping out of an aeroplane window in order to retrieve his bottle of booze; a scene with a (Ruth Jones lookalike) waitress; encounters with Mrs. Hemogolobin (Margaret Dumont) and her daughter (Susan Miller) - look out for the "game" Sqwuigilium! - ; the sublimely awful trilling of Gloria Jean; and (a personal favourite) a monkey putting on a radio that plays "Comin' Through the Rye." Throughout the whole glorious mess bumbles the magnificent Mr. Fields (in his last starring role), the most endearing boozer, misanthrope and chancer the screen has ever seen.

More on the BFI season here:


  1. The only one thing I like about wc Fields was his much lauded quote about why he never drank water..............
    "fish fuck in it!!!" he said!

  2. You haven't lived until you've seen Fields's Bank Dick enter the Black Pussy Cafe. "Godfrey Daniel!"

    Some more Fields quotes here:

    Enjoy Ms. Streep!