Review: It's a Gift (1934)

>> Thursday, January 18, 2007

USA/B&W-73 m./Dir: Norman McLeod/Wr: Jack Cunningham (from The Comic Supplement by J.P. McEvoy)/Cast: W.C. Fields (Harold Bissonette), Kathleen Howard (Amelia Bissonette), Baby LeRoy (Ellwood Dunk), Tommy Bupp (Norman Bissonette)

Most people, if asked to conjure up an image of W.C. Fields, would picture him dressed in a top hat and checkered coat in the role of an itinerant con man. Although the Great Man’s huckster persona is ingrained in the public consciousness, over the course of his career, W.C. was just as likely to portray a hen-pecked family man beset by aggravations sufficient to send Job running for the liquor cabinet. Most of Fields’ best comedies fall into the latter category, including It’s a Gift, his only feature to crack the American Film Institute’s list of the “100 Funniest Films.”

Fields stars as Harold Bissonette (pronounced Biss-o-nay), a small town grocer who dreams of escaping his daily annoyances--a nagging wife, ill-behaved kids, a dimwitted employee, and demanding customers--to retire to a California orange grove. Before Harold can achieve his goal, he has to endure several painfully funny set pieces including a run in with the most detestable blind man ever depicted on celluloid and the film’s comic highlight, in which Harold, driven outdoors by his wife’s nagging, tries to get some sleep on a porch swing.

To call It’s a Gift a comic masterpiece is not hyperbole. It is quite simply one of the finest film comedies ever made. The Bank Dick (1940) may edge it out slightly as the Great Man’s greatest, but It’s a Gift displays W.C. at the height of his powers, performing precision-timed material cribbed from his best-loved stage sketches. If the plot is a bit thin and the scenes don’t fully mesh, it matters not, because each individual sequence is amongst the funniest ever captured on film. This is pure, undiluted, 200 proof Fields.

Drinks Consumed--Unidentified liquor in a flask (referred to as “reviver”) and gin (with a dribble of orange juice)

Intoxicating Effects--Sneaking sips, harmonizing, and bravado

Potent Quotables-- BUSINESSMAN: You’re drunk.
HAROLD: Yeah, and you’re crazy. But I’ll be sober tomorrow, and you’ll be crazy for the rest of your life.

Video Availability--DVD, as part of the W.C. Fields Comedy Collection Vol. 1 (Universal)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--W.C. previously performed a version of the porch swing scene in the excellent but rarely screened silent feature, It’s the Old Army Game (1926).

W.C. Fields Comedy Collection, Vol. 2 (The Man on the Flying Trapeze / Never Give A Sucker An Even Break / You're Telling Me! / The Old Fashioned Way / Poppy)


Otto Mannix April 22, 2009 at 11:36 AM  

Good concise review. This movie is not only one of my favorite comedies, but perhaps could be in my top ten favorite films! Each scene is more hilarious than the last, all the way to the finale. (It also made the BFI's top one hundred movies.)

Russ Queen May 25, 2013 at 8:32 PM  

What is the Fields movie where he downs a bunch of liquor and then is confronted with a glass of water and turns it away in disgust? This is driving me crazy.

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

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