>> Tuesday, June 12, 2007
USA/B&W-12m./Dir: Julian Duvivier/Wr: Edmund Beloin & William Morrow/Cast: W.C. Fields (Professor Postlewhistle), Margaret Dumont (Mrs. Langahankie), Phil Silvers (Tailor), Chester Clute (Mr. Langahankie)
Universal Studios unceremoniously dumped W.C. Fields after the completion of Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941), and the Great Man never found another opportunity to create and star in a film of his own. Of course, W.C. was not completely idle during his later years. He engaged in a lot of elbow bending, did a little radio work, recorded an album (featuring the monologues “The Day I Drank a Glass of Water” and “The Temperance Lecture”), and made brief appearances in four other movies. The first of these films was Tales of Manhattan, a Twentieth Century Fox all-star vehicle which followed a tuxedo tail coat as it moved from owner to owner, each portrayed by one of Fox’s biggest stars (Charles Boyer, Henry Fonda, Edward G. Robinson, etc).
Fields plays Professor Postlewhistle, an unscrupulous huckster who is scheduled to deliver a temperance lecture at the home of the wealthy Mrs. Langahankie (Margaret Dumont). On his way to the engagement, Postlewhistle stops to purchase suitable attire, and he is swindled into purchasing the secondhand tail coat, which he believes to contain the wallet of its previous owner. Dressed in the ill-fitting dinner jacket, Postlewhistle delivers an address on the evils of alcohol and the medicinal benefits of coconut milk. While the Great Man speaks, Mrs. Langahankie and her guests get shellacked on coconut milk (spiked with gin by Mr. Langahankie).
When Tales of Manhattan was previewed for critics, they praised Fields’ work as the highlight of the film, but the picture was overlong, and the studio cut his segment before the movie was released. Today, the public can finally evaluate this late entry in the Great Man’s catalog, because the scene was recently restored. The Tales sequence is far from Fields’ best work, and it is a tad shocking how much his face displays the ravages of age, illness, and excess. Still, the Great Man was incapable of being unfunny, and his numerous adlibs make the brief segment breezy, boozy fun. It should also be noted that this film gives us a rare opportunity to see Fields play a scene off another great huckster comedian, Phil Silvers.
Drinks Consumed--Gin and unnamed liquor
Intoxicating Effects--Stumbling, destruction of property, punch-spiking, and passing out
Potent Quotables--POSTLEWHISTLE: My subject tonight will be “Will alcohol ever take the place of rover as man’s best friend?”
Video Availability--The deleted scene was reinserted into the VHS release of the film (Fox). On DVD, the segment and alternative takes can be viewed on Hidden Hollywood, Vol. 2 - More Treasures from the 20th Century Fox Vaults (Image). Catch the latter if you can, because Fields’ adlibs in the outtakes are often funnier than what was left in the picture.
Similarly Sauced Cinema--Fields also decries the effects of demon alcohol in the funniest short subject ever made, The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933).