Review: You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man (1939)

>> 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.

Drinks Consumed--Whiskey

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)


tom o January 20, 2007 at 12:27 PM  

do you know if any of those old radio shows are available??

garv January 20, 2007 at 4:13 PM  

Only a few Bergen shows are available commercially, but there are a number of Old Time Radio trading groups that offer around 138 Edgar Bergen episodes in MP3 format that you can download or request on CD (they mail it to you, you copy it, you return it with the postage cost). Of course, Fields only appears in a handful of the surviving shows.

If you search "OTR" in yahoo groups, you'll find them pretty easily. There are thousands of other OTR episodes from other shows available as well. Although many of these shows are completely copyright free, some can fall into murky areas, so these groups don't sell shows, they only share and trade.

tom o January 20, 2007 at 4:39 PM  

thanks. in searching around i found this:

the whole site looks pretty cool.

garv January 20, 2007 at 4:55 PM  

I've purchased from otrcat before. On the whole their product and service is very good. However, they hold no ownership of any of the material that they sell, so you can find the same material available for free if you look around.

One thing to keep in mind with OTR mp3 is it is usually recorded in highly condensed files (usually 32k/22kHz). Thats about four times smaller than most music files. Computer MP3 players can handle these small files, but not all portable MP3 players or boomboxes can.

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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.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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