Review: The Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935)

>> Monday, March 26, 2007

USA/B&W-65m./Dir: Clyde Bruckman/Wr: Ray Harris & Sam Hardy/Cast: W.C. Fields (Ambrose Wolfinger), Mary Brian (Hope Wolfinger), Kathleen Howard (Leona Wolfinger), Grady Sutton (Claude), Vera Lewis (Cordelia Neselrode)

No character W.C. Fields ever played had more reason to drink than Ambrose Wolfinger, the hero of his hilariously painful masterwork, The Man on the Flying Trapeze. Over the course of the film, Ambrose suffers on a Job-like scale--getting arrested for manufacturing liquor without a license; being wrongly accused of having an affair with his secretary (portrayed by Field’s real-life mistress Carlotta Monti); receiving four traffic tickets in a row; and absorbing numerous insults hurled by his nagging wife, mother-in-law, and good-for-nothing brother-in-law. It’s no wonder Ambrose sneaks sips of applejack in the bathroom while pretending to brush his teeth.

The much put upon breadwinner harbors one secret wish--to attend the wrestling match of the century between Tosoff, the Russian Behemoth and Hookallockah Meshobbab, the Persian Giant--but to do so, Ambrose must fib to his boss to take his first afternoon off in 25 years. Will the employer believe Wolfinger’s excuse that he has to attend the funeral of his mother-in-law, who kicked the bucket drinking poison liquor? Will Ambrose make it to the wrestling matches in time to catch the big fight? And will his horrid in-laws ultimately receive their much-needed comeuppance? You’ll have to find out for yourself. I’m not telling. However, I will guarantee that you won’t regret taking the time to enjoy this overlooked gem.

The Man on the Flying Trapeze is the most unfairly ignored picture of W.C. Fields’ career. In terms of quality and laughs, Trapeze comes in a close third to the Great Man’s other domestic masterpieces, It’s a Gift (1934) and The Bank Dick (1940). However, it hasn’t received a fraction of the acclaim or the audience that those better-known films have attracted. I can only assume this is due to the fact that until recently this tipsy tour de force was entirely unavailable on video. Hopefully, with the DVD release, The Man on the Flying Trapeze will finally receive the recognition it so richly deserves.

Drinks Consumed--Homemade applejack

Intoxicating Effects--Sneaking sips, harmonizing, and jail time

Potent Quotables--MRS. WOLFINGER (from the bedroom): What are you doing in the bathroom?
AMBROSE: (Takes a drink of applejack) Eh, brushing my teeth, dear.
MRS. WOLFINGER: I don’t know what’s come over you lately. You’re always in that bathroom brushing your teeth.

Video Availability--DVD, as part of the W.C. Fields Comedy Collection, Vol. 2 (Universal)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--The Man on the Flying Trapeze was a loose remake of Field’s silent film Running Wild (1927), which also featured Mary Brian as his daughter.

W.C. Fields Comedy Collection Vol. 1 (The Bank Dick / My Little Chickadee / You Can't Cheat an Honest Man / It's a Gift / International House)

Man on the Flying Trapeze: The Life and Times of W. C. Fields (Paperback)


Anonymous October 25, 2008 at 7:26 PM  

Greatest Fields movie ever!!!!!!!!

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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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