Sunday, August 24, 2003


One of the few W. C. Fields movies I've seen where the plot actually counts for something, at least for a while. Fields plays Sam Bisbee, a dreamer who spends most of his time coming up with offbeat inventions in his back room, most notably a chair that knocks out the person who sits in it. His most promising invention is a puncture-proof tire. His sweet daughter (Joan Marsh) wants to marry a boy (Buster Crabbe) from a high society family, but the boy's mother (Kathleen Howard) obejcts strongly to Marsh's background, especially her somewhat disreputable and occasionally drunken father. Fields hopes that the sale of his tire to a tire company will impress Crabbe's mother and facilitate the marriage, but the demonstration goes awry. On the train home, Fields thinks about suicide, but then mistakenly believes that a female passenger (Adrienne Ames) is about to take poison and so he "saves" her. Fields actually *acts* here, fleshing out his character in a way that he usually didn't bother with in his later movies. It turns out that Ames is a princess touring America ; charmed by Field's chivalry, she visits him at home (leading to rumors of an affair) and winds up boosting his reputation and helping him sell his invention. The plot stops dead in the last 10 minutes as Fields does his famous slapstick gold routine (culled from an earlier short film); I found the bit to be rather tedious but it doesn't really hurt the movie. Other reviewers have commented that we see a "kinder & gentler" Fields in this film, which is mostly true, but it still ranks with his best. The opening, where he comes home drunk, is one of his best routines ever.

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