Review: Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941)

>> Sunday, April 1, 2007


USA/B&W-70m./Dir: Edward Cline/Wr: John T. Neville & Prescott Chaplin/Cast: W.C. Fields (Bill Fields), Gloria Jean (Gloria Jean), Franklin Pangborn (Mr. Pangborn), Margaret Dumont (Mrs. Hemoglobin), Susan Miller (Ouliotta Delight), Leon Errol (Leon), Jody Gilbert (Tiny)

The Great Man had a history of butting heads with the studio bosses over creative interference and censorship, and he used his last starring vehicle to satirize those battles for comedic effect. In Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, W.C. plays himself, a troublesome writer/actor by the name of Bill Fields. Yet, despite the use of his real name and a movie studio setting, no film he ever made was less grounded in reality. Sucker displays the Great Man at his most outlandish, surreal, and inebriated.

As the character of Bill Fields reads his proposed script to the head of Esoteric Pictures (played by familiar Fields foil Franklin Pangborn), the film-within-the-film depicts the loony action--W.C. jumps from an airplane to recover a fallen liquor bottle, landing in the nest-like dwelling of the beautiful Ouliotta Delight and her ghastly mother, Mrs. Hemoglobin, a rich dowager whom he later courts after downing several snorts of 100-proof goats milk! Of course, the studio head in the film refuses to produce the Great Man’s script, and in reality, Universal refused to produce any more Fields vehicles after Sucker was completed.

Sucker turned out to be one of the Great Man’s funniest films. However, like many of his early talkies, W.C. is off screen as much as he is on, and the film could have benefited from more Fields and fewer musical interludes. Still, the Great Man was not in the best health at the time of making Sucker, so we should be grateful that we received a few final hilarious scenes from the screen’s greatest comedian. Although W.C. would appear briefly in four later movies, he never again wrote or starred in a film of his own. Still, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break serves as a fitting chaser to a 100-proof film career.

Drinks Consumed--Whiskey, goat’s milk (spiked with alcohol)

Intoxicating Effects--Hangover

Potent Quotables--SECRETARY (on the phone): You big hoddy-doddy, you smoke vile cigars all day and drink whiskey half the night. Someday you’ll drown in a vat of whiskey.
FIELDS: Drown in a vat of whiskey; death where is thy sting?

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

Similarly Sauced Cinema--The cartoonishly surreal gags on display in Sucker harken back to Fields’ zany 1932 comedy Million Dollar Legs.

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)

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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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