Review: You’re Telling Me (1934)

>> Tuesday, March 20, 2007

USA/B&W-67m./Dir: Erle C. Kenton/Wr: Walter DeLeon, Paul M. Jones, & J.P. McEvoy/Cast: W.C. Fields (Sam Bisbee), Joan Marsh (Pauline Bisbee), Buster Crabbe (Bob Murchison), Adrienne Ames (Princess Lescaboura), Louise Carter (Mrs. Bisbee), Kathleen Howard (Mrs. Murchison)

Although W.C. Fields drank immoderately on and off camera, he rarely played a scene in which he appeared pie-eyed drunk. The major exception can be found in You’re Telling Me, the first sound film in which the Great Man was given the solo lead. The movie opens with a masterful drunk scene, in which Fields staggers home, removes his shoes to avoid waking his wife, loses his hat repeatedly, and has to resort to using a funnel to insert his key into the keyhole. Once indoors, he gets caught in the decorative ropes that hang from the hallway curtains and nearly strangles himself in his efforts to become disentangled.

Unfortunately, after this boffo display of physical humor, the film settles into a mild, homespun narrative, based on a short story that originally appeared in Redbook (which gives you an idea of how edgy it is). Fields portrays Sam Bisbee, a small-town inventor with a big heart whose nipping and uncouth manners are a constant embarrassment to his wife and daughter. However, after a chance meeting with a real princess, tables turn and Bisbee finds himself the toast of the small town socialite set. It’s a pleasant enough story, and Fields gives an excellent, out-of-character performance as the kind, gentle Bisbee. Still, the film is nowhere near as fun as the later classics in which Fields had a greater hand in scripting. Although, W.C. intersperses the proceedings with occasional touches of dark humor and a few amusing moonshine-laced gags, the net effect is a little like watching a cobra with his fangs removed.

Still, even minor Fields films are better than most comedians’ “A” material, and the movie is a must-see for the Great Man’s drunk scene and the classic golf routine which ends the picture. The self-scripted golf sketch was one of Fields’ most popular stage routines, and though it is an odd fit here (it’s very obviously tacked on), it contains more laughs than the rest of the running time combined.

Drinks Consumed--Moonshine and imported whiskey

Intoxicating Effects--Sneaking sips, staggering, bad breath, and punch spiking

Potent Quotables-- MRS. BISBEE (speaking of their daughter): Suppose she were entertaining a nice young man in her home, and you came in looking like that, with your shoes off, suspenders down, and your breath smelling of cheap liquor?
SAM BISBEE: Cheap? Four dollars a gallon.

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

Similarly Sauced Cinema--The story “Mr. Bisbee’s Princess,” on which the film is based, also served as the foundation of Fields’ silent feature So’s Your Old Man (1926).

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)


Michael K March 21, 2007 at 3:22 PM  

You've inspired me to go out and pick up a couple W.C. flicks tonight. Good work.

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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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