>> Saturday, January 20, 2007
USA/B&W-76 m./Dir: George Marshall/Wr: George Marion, Jr., Richard Mack, & Everett Freeman/Cast: W.C. Fields (Larson E. Whipsnade), Edgar Bergen (The Great Edgar), Charlie McCarthy (Himself), Mortimer Snerd (Himself)
Due to illness exacerbated by a fondness for fermented fluids, W.C. Fields was hospitalized in the summer of 1936 and was forced to take a two-year hiatus from film work. As he recouped, he was able to appear in the less-strenuous medium of radio, where he became a semi-regular on The Chase and Sandborn Hour, starring ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and wooden sidekick Charlie McCarthy. Ironically, it was during Fields’ lowest period of health that he achieved the height of his popularity. A large portion of the public discovered W.C. for the first time when his voice was broadcast directly into their homes, and his verbal sparing with Charlie McCarthy became something of a phenomenon. When Fields’ health improved, it was only natural for his new movie studio, Universal, to exploit the Great Man’s radio popularity by teaming him with the dummy.
In You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man, Fields plays the most unscrupulous of all of his huckster characters, Larson E. Whipsnade (“It’s not ‘Larceny.” It’s ‘Larson E.’”), the liquid lunch-ingesting proprietor of Whipsnade’s Circus Giganticus. With Bergen employed by the outfit as a magician/ventriloquist, the Great Man gets plenty of opportunity to trade insults with his wooden nemesis. Unfortunately, Fields’ onset battles with his director and severe editing resulted in a disjointed finished product. Worst of all, Bergen’s hokum and romantic subplot slow the picture to a crawl whenever the Great Man is off screen. Still, the film showcases Fields at his most purposely pestiferous, and for that alone, it’s worth a view.
Incidentally, the Great Man was offered the role of the Wizard of Oz in the MGM classic, but he reluctantly had to turn it down due to a scheduling conflict with You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man.
Intoxicating Effects--Boasting and public disturbance
Potent Quotables--WHIPSNADE (to his daughter): Victoria dear, some weasel took the cork out of my lunch.
Video Availability--DVD, as part of the W.C. Fields Comedy Collection Vol. 1 (Universal)
Similarly Sauced Cinema--The Great Man teamed with Bergen again for a short bit in the best forgotten, Song of the Open Road (1944)
Official Edgar Bergen and Charlie Mccarthy Old Time Radio OTR Mp3 Collection on DVD - Offering 64 Different Shows and Appearances for a Total of 32+ Hours of Listening Enjoyment
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)