01 December 2005

100 films: It's a Gift

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starring: W.C. Fields, Kathleen Howard, Jean Rouverol, and Julian Madison
written by: Jack Cunningham and W.C. Fields, from the play by J.P. McEvoy
directed by: Norman Z. McLeod
NR, 73 min, 1934, USA

Local grocery owner Harold Bissonette (W.C. Fields) dreams of moving to California and running an orange grove, but is constantly thwarted by his nagging wife and annoying children. When an uncle dies, he inherits the money necessary, but the orange grove turns out to be a bust.[1]

David St. Hubbins, lead singer of the band Spinal Tap, once noted that, "It's such a fine line between stupid, and clever." On the clever side, you have a band that can't find the stage and an album cover that's completely black, on the other side you have the W.C. Fields comedy It's a Gift, which feels more like an exercise in annoyance than an actual comedy the audience is supposed to enjoy. Fields spends most of the film trying to do menial tasks such as sleeping or shaving, but he has to work around annoyance after annoyance. He mutters, "yes dear" over and over again, and is clearly frustrated by the lack of control he has over his daily routine, which probably explains why he buys the orange grove without asking his wife. This, of course, turns out to be a shack surrounded by some ground that might grow weeds.

I assume the sum total of all these annoyances is supposed to equal comedy, but it turns out to just be annoying. You feel some sympathy for the man, but not as much as you do for yourself. Fields has created his own private circle of hell by marrying a nosey shrew, fathering little brat children, and trying to take a nap outside in broad daylight, so our sympathy can only go so far, but what have we done as an audience to be dragged down with him? Is it our fault we're making the effort to watch old comedies? What have we done to deserve this sort of headache?[2] Nothing that I can see.

To be fair, a film that relies this heavily on slapstick is not generally my sort of film and I'm having a pretty bad day already, so I may not be in the best mood to watch this, but I simply cannot see how this is a highly-regarded film. Perhaps it has not aged well and was much more enjoyable in 1934, but I doubt it.

[1] If this doesn't seem to be much of a premise it's because, well, it isn't. Fortunately it only takes 73 minutes to conclude.

[2] And I do now have a headache, actually.


johanna said...

it wasn't just me, then. good.

not long before Netflix sends out the decalogue. a first for me.

lucas said...

yeah, it was pretty bad. the decalogue is so amazing, though.

johanna said...

i was thinking it's pretty long to watch alone.

Anonymous said...

You guys need to realize that comedy film back then was different, as opposed to the idiotic comedy films that people are accustomed to today. I personally love this film. It's laughable, it's not violent, there's no killing, shooting, and there's no nudity -- something which a lot of the films of today clearly are chock full of. Look at movies today, a guy gets his arm shot off and people laugh. Not good.

lucas said...

few people hate modern comedies as much as i do. not to get on a high horse, but a casual reading of these posts will support that. it is a mistake, i think, to confuse the lack of potentially offensive material with quality. i would argue that the film has not aged well and it's tepid box office when it was released would tend to argue that it wasn't all that well received in the good old days either. simply put, i don't think the film is very good. i can see how people would like it, but i did not enjoy it for even a minute.

and there was shooting, that he didn't hit anyone was a happy accident.