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Daily Dose of Doozy #7: The Clown Tradition: W.C. Fields


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#21 Janeko

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 05:51 PM

I noticed something when watching this film years ago.

 

With Fields throwing around terms like "shifting spanner",  did the censors miss another joke that CERTAINLY would not have been condoned in 1940? I believe they did.

 

I won't repeat it here, but notice how they refer to the saloon that Shemp bartends - they consistently leave out the word Cat. It even leaves the word Cat out on the window when stating the name of the place of business.

 

I can't repeat the saloon's name as I don't want to get banned. But go back and take a look or just listen again to Fields. It's a scream!

 

Chase also got away with putting the word "sh*tty" in a description of his golf clubs in one of his shorts.

 

Between Chase and Fields, I think the censors didn't look hard at comedies, as they were "only" comedies. They would usually worry about the screen play and make suggested cuts and revisions from that. I guess they didn't always look at the finished product!

I also noticed the way the name of the saloon was "abbreviated" and was surprised that it got past the censors because it really is "in your face!"



#22 Motorcitystacy

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 05:46 PM

W.C. Fields is NOT one of my favorites, so I can't really comment much on this. I can say he clearly misses his freewheeling bachelor days when he does flee the family and head for the saloon. I could almost call him a nonconformist when it comes to domesticity. Not everyone is cut out for that.

 

A lot of his verbal slapstick is mumbled (perhaps to skirt the Hays Code?) and he is not afraid to express his opinions regarding children, verbally or physically.



#23 Marianne

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 04:44 PM

      . . . It should be noted that Fields used a lot of British English in his speech, an example of which was the term "shifting spanner."  The British term for a wrench is/was a spanner; one that adjusted was called shifting.  A shifting spanner was an adjustable wrench that Americans called a monkey wrench.  No double entendre to it, just a funny sounding word (As Freud noted: "Sometimes a cigar is only a cigar."). . . .

 

I wondered about Fields's source for some of his words and phrases. He had a fondness for Charles Dickens; maybe that led him to an appreciation of British English and to a desire to incorporate choice words and phrases into his movies.


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#24 drzhen

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 02:21 PM

I noticed something when watching this film years ago.

 

With Fields throwing around terms like "shifting spanner",  did the censors miss another joke that CERTAINLY would not have been condoned in 1940? I believe they did.

 

I won't repeat it here, but notice how they refer to the saloon that Shemp bartends - they consistently leave out the word Cat. It even leaves the word Cat out on the window when stating the name of the place of business.

 

I can't repeat the saloon's name as I don't want to get banned. But go back and take a look or just listen again to Fields. It's a scream!

 

Chase also got away with putting the word "sh*tty" in a description of his golf clubs in one of his shorts.

 

Between Chase and Fields, I think the censors didn't look hard at comedies, as they were "only" comedies. They would usually worry about the screen play and make suggested cuts and revisions from that. I guess they didn't always look at the finished product!

Fields got away with with so much, one of the subversive pleasures of studying his work, and then you have Danny Kaye fantasizing about being a bureaucrat and giving the people, "The fist, the wrist and the finger" in "The Inspector General". Yes, they got away with a lot more in comedies than any other film genre.



#25 drzhen

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 02:04 PM

Whether in a sotto voce aside or a bombastic, exaggerated or blustery manner, Fields says what many of us might be thinking but are too polite to say out loud. Whereas Groucho just bombards us with verbal gymnastics Field's humor is a more measured comedic defense rather than wise cracks. I never saw Chase as a verbal comedian. He's more inclined to react to something physically, using not only his face but his entire body, often in a deliberately exaggerated fashion.

The "bubble in a bathtub" line is a classic.

For all of Fields' verbal prowess, one of the bits in "The Bank Dick" that never fails to make me laugh out loud is his reaction to the boy with the toy gun. You know something is going to happen, but the swift, exaggerated violence of Field's reaction catches us off guard and provides yet another example of two key ingredients of slapstick.



#26 RhondaWI

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 01:36 PM

W.C. Fields is someone that can make you laugh from a simple eyebrow lifted, to a gesture to the delivery of lines. Chase had that, but there is something more when a person watches Fields.  The Marx Brothers do the same as Fields - one becomes part of the insanity - you suddenly realize that a sane person may not exist and that anyone who isn't in on the joke - you feel bad for them.

 

For the second part it is as if we are in Fields' head as he is muttering to the camera, which is to himself, but really to us the audience - we become one with him and we are cheering him on as he has to deal with his family and other things thrown at him.



#27 Marianne

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 01:04 PM

1. Compared to the last two Daily Doses, how does W. C. Fields verbal slapstick compare to and/or differ from Charley Chase and the Marx Brothers?

In this clip from The Bank Dick, I especially enjoyed the sound effects for the physical comedy. By 1940, someone figured out how to use exaggerated extraneous sounds to emphasize the humor, and I thought it worked perfectly, which could not be said for the clip featuring Charley Chase. Fields isn’t just a verbal comic/clown. I loved his bit where he popped his cigarette into his mouth to hide it and then coughed it up a moment later. I think his many talents as a comedian put him in league with the Marx Brothers.

 

The names were hilarious. I understand that Fields took his inspiration for characters’ names from Charles Dickens, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he borrowed freely from the way Dickens wrote, too. Og Oggilby (reminds me of Nicholas Nickleby): “Sounds like a bubble in a bathtub.” Fields cleverly uses alliteration in the description, and it’s an aside meant for no one in particular. Oggilby and the daughter don’t even seem to notice what Fields just said. His patter is entertaining in and of itself.
2. Based on Alan Dale’s definition of verbal slapstick, what are some of the characteristic verbal gags that you noticed in watching this clip? Feel free to share some of your favorite lines from the clip as well.

Fields’s inflections and his voice are such trademarks of his. The distinctive way that he spoke could make almost anything sound funny. He often speaks to no one in particular, not even the audience, in asides that allow him to make observations and to think out loud. He uses all types of word play in his humor.


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#28 Popcorn97

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 10:13 AM

1. Compared to the last two Daily Doses, how does W.C. Fields verbal slapstick compare to and/or differ from Charley Chase and the Marx Brothers?

I feel that his kind of slap stick is the kind of person you "Don't want around" he sticks his nose into other people's business. But also he feels that he is doing nothing wrong. He drinks and smokes and reads a lot. Or he buys an old junk car to run into other cars.

 

 

2. Based on Alan Dale's definition of verbal slapstick, what are some of the characteristic verbal "gags" that you noticed in watching this clip? Feel free to share some of your favorite lines from the clip as well.

 

I am use to the W.C. Fields show from the radio and not his movies. I can tell his verbal gags on radio were really funny. Such as "the day i drank a glass of water" or his verbal battles with Charlie McCarthy



#29 Whipsnade

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 05:08 AM

      In terms of verbal delivery, W. C. Fields has a slower and more subtle presentation than the Marx Brothers -- subtle, but even more consistently sarcastic.  Charlie Chase would fall somewhere in between these two extremes (though much lower on the sarcasm scale).  In terms of character, I look to Harold Lloyd as a parallel, as both present the everyday man (though at different points in life).  If Lloyd is the ordinary man as the optimistic youth who is always resilient and ready to try again, Fields is the ordinary man as the pessimistic old man who is worn down by the travails of life and his own bad decisions.  Young Lloyd aspires to domesticity; old Fields once did, too, and is now trapped by it.

 

      Another comparison can be made with Chase.  While Chase's greatest emotion is exasperation, Field's greatest emotion is resentment.  For Chase, his exasperation reflects his optimistic belief that things should be going better, and if he tries a little harder, they will be.  For Fields, his resentment reflects a pessimistic belief that things will go badly, no matter what he does.  The resentment is the last glimmer of the optimism that he once had, as he lives a life of fatalistic resignation.  In spite of this, he trudges on but invests very little emotion in whether he succeeds or fails.  When he finally stumbles into success at the end of the film, he rolls with it and is unchanged.  The final gag is the now-loving family marveling at what a changed man he is.  

 

      Lots of verbal gags in this clip, such as his introduction to Og Oggilby, "helping" James with the car repair, Vaseline and boondoggling.  Also his cod liver oil mine in Cape Cod.  It should be noted that Fields used a lot of British English in his speech, an example of which was the term "shifting spanner."  The British term for a wrench is/was a spanner; one that adjusted was called shifting.  A shifting spanner was an adjustable wrench that Americans called a monkey wrench.  No double entendre to it, just a funny sounding word (As Freud noted: "Sometimes a cigar is only a cigar.").

 

      It should be noted that the crediting listed on this clip is incorrect.  It should read Mother-in-Law (Jessie Ralph), Wife (Cora Witherspoon), Young Daughter (Evelyn Del Rio), Older Daughter (Una Merkel) & Og Oggilby (Grady Sutton).  Screenplay by Mahatma Kane Jeeves (aka: W. C. Fields).


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#30 Dubbed

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 04:16 AM

W.C. Fields has a proclivity to grumble through his lines within this clip from The Bank Dick. I appointed the closed caption option as the commander of dialogue while viewing the scenes. Fields, vocally, is resorted to grunting or moaning while in the presence of his wife, another woman, and a young girl. He appears to go throughout his daily routine(s) as though pain is a clinging companion. I'm under the assumption these are the customs of a seemingly misanthropic curmudgeon. (Is it possible W.C Fields inspired Archie Bunker from All in the Family?)

Fields, in comparison to the Marx Brothers, embodies a stark distinction. Fields is not clearly verbally expressive, he is short of words, relying on silence (while in the presence of his family), if not mutterings without annunciation. The Marx Brothers, on the other hand, are a divine treat in their wordage, as vocabulary could easily pose as the sixth Marx sibling. Their fast paced approach to dialogue, with the excessive use of witticisms is a master class in comedy. (I have SO much adoration for great dialogue, whether comedic or otherwise.)

Fields and Charley Chase are somewhat more comparable in regards to dialogue. Chase, like Fields, does not employ a quick-paced stylistic type of banter. I wouldn't state either of them as being a massive fan of words, but Chase does speak more often than Fields, just not to the effect of the Marx Brothers. Groucho and the Marx gang stand alone in the arena of words.

One gag in particular provided a fine amount of enjoyment. As Fields descends the staircase, we over hear complaints from a woman about his smoking and drinking. He is rather clever in this instance and decidedly hides the lit cigarette in his mouth.

Pretty smooth and quite funny. But, Fields appears to be a man who possibly is less fortunate with luck when trying to keep his vices concealed. This is proven true upon a physical altercation with the young girl, as she lends a swift kick to Fields' leg. The result: he immediately coughs smoke. Cigarettes be damned.

There is a certain charm to Fields comedic style. I often get a kick out of curmudgeons in film. The dry, sarcastic, meanness some of these misanthropes consist of is quite amusing much of the time. (See Jack Nicholson for misanthropic behavior in As Good As It Gets). There is a desire to explore Fields a bit more in assessing him on a holistic spectrum, and The Bank Dick is a great place to begin. Nice ending to the scene of kicking the crumpled napkin into the air- Chaplin, you have been saluted.
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#31 MarxBrosfan4

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 11:19 PM

It seems like WC Fields was more slower and sometimes easier to catch his slapstick if you listen hard enough because of his mumbling. The Marx Brothers were quick and you'd really have to pay attention. It was the first time I'd seen Charley Chase. So I guess I can't really say too much right now on the differing.

 

How he made fun of the name of his daughters boyfriend and the word boondoggling was funny. When he tried to help the chauffeur with the engine was predictable but funny. With the throwing of different objects up to the flower pot was good. I wasn't expecting that. The bar scene was good when he said about putting Vaseline on the pole.  



#32 Schlinged

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 10:36 PM

Questions: 
1. Compared to the last two Daily Doses, how does W.C. Fields verbal slapstick compare to and/or differ from Charley Chase and the Marx Brothers?
I would say that Charley Chase was far more literal than Marx Bros and WC Fields, while Marx Bros and WC Fields would use malapropsims and made up words than Chase. The Marx Bros, particularly Groucho and Chico, or Groucho and Harpo to a lesser extent, would trade barbs, while WC Fields would be alone with the straight man in his conversations.
 
2. Based on Alan Dale's definition of verbal slapstick, what are some of the characteristic verbal "gags" that you noticed in watching this clip? Very sarcastic, but not at breakneck pace, he would get names incorrect, such as when he was talking about the engine - he would misname the parts and the wrench, and dropped the engine out of the car (it wasn't verbal but it was funny). In the tavern while he orders a drink with a water back and takes the drink but uses the water to clean his hands instead of using it as a traditional water back, so leads into the sight gags. 
 

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#33 luismminski

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 10:12 PM

While the Marx Brothers acting together as a clearly disruptive element from their same appearance, attacking all the established and normal, Fields appears to be a normal man, that things and which reacts generating gags that we admire so much happen. In their dialogues, manages the language, the tone of voice and the sense of the words of form different, for example according to speaks with the driver or with the woman in the car. Here we can see some of the items raised by Alan Dale.



#34 ScottZepher

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 09:32 PM

Before I post my homework, a question:  Was Shemp Howard whistling the Three Stooges theme (Listen to the Mockingboid) as Fields enters the saloon?

 

1. Like Chase, Fields is subtle; he never needs to raise his voice or get in someone's face to set that person off into a "breakneck clip."  Put them all into a room together:  Chase will high-tail it out, the rest will settle down to a card game, trading barbs.  Fields would end up **** Chico off, maybe make Harpo cry, but he and Groucho could end up playing all night and still breaking even.

 

2.  More "insipid verbosity that turns the speaker's own words against himself," then "orotundity" (he goes about sounding far more educated and experienced in the automotive sciences, then does the one thing that could not possibly make the situation any worse)

We hear far more non-sequiturs and one-liners in The Bank Dick, which if I remember correctly, portrays Fields as the husband/father/son-in-law ne'er-do-well who for one bright shining moment receives respect from his family.  Fields is known in other films for "puns, vivid slang, outrageous metaphors, double entendre, malapropisms, mispronunciations," in his other works, such as My Little Chickadee
 


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#35 drmichaelbowman

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 09:23 PM

1.   Compared to the last two Daily Doses, how does W.C. Fields verbal slapstick compare to and/or differ from Charley Chase and the Marx Brothers?

 

While the Marx Bros. comedy was geared toward creating anarchy among the social elite, Fields’ comedy was rebellion against domesticity.  He disliked children, ridiculed potential son-in-laws, and scorned grandmotherly types.  His normalcy was found in bars and saloons.

 

2. Based on Alan Dale's definition of verbal slapstick, what are some of the characteristic verbal "gags" that you noticed in watching this clip? Feel free to share some of your favorite lines from the clip as well.

 

Like Chico, Fields had an exaggerated accent or vocal cadence that contributed to the humor of his lines.  While Groucho used a cigar as his signature prop, Fields used the shot glass.  Like Groucho, Fields’s verbal retorts could as violent and painful as any body blow.  And like all the comedians we’ve seen up to this point, Fields’ physicality was essential to his comedic personae.  (His startled reaction to the man at the bar for example)

 


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#36 Lawrence Wolff

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 08:44 PM

I noticed something when watching this film years ago.

 

With Fields throwing around terms like "shifting spanner",  did the censors miss another joke that CERTAINLY would not have been condoned in 1940? I believe they did.

 

I won't repeat it here, but notice how they refer to the saloon that Shemp bartends - they consistently leave out the word Cat. It even leaves the word Cat out on the window when stating the name of the place of business.

 

I can't repeat the saloon's name as I don't want to get banned. But go back and take a look or just listen again to Fields. It's a scream!

 

Chase also got away with putting the word "sh*tty" in a description of his golf clubs in one of his shorts.

 

Between Chase and Fields, I think the censors didn't look hard at comedies, as they were "only" comedies. They would usually worry about the screen play and make suggested cuts and revisions from that. I guess they didn't always look at the finished product!


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#37 Knuckleheads Return

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 08:25 PM

Charley Chase was a gentleman compared to W.C. Fields by any stretch and the Marx Brothers with Groucho in the forefront could provide the "smooth" insult to the best. Just ask Margaret Dumont . But looking at W. C. Fields in this clip from the "Bank Dick" his style is just so insulting. His repartee with the family members and the little girl from whom he stole the change for an I.O.U. is just so exagerated. He is the proverbial bull in the china shop of comedy.  

 

Looking at W.C. Fields in this clip with some of Dale's definitions of Verbal Slapstick we see him using verbosity, orotundity, puns, outrageous metaphors. "Boondogeling", "Spanner wrench", "cod oil mine" ... he takes no prisoners and spares no one.


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#38 johnseury

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 08:09 PM

1. Fields throws so many verbal gags under his breath that you have to listen carefully but the effort is worth it. He can be a bit hard to understand. Charlie Chase's comedy was more situational and the Marxes are in a whimsical world of their own. Fields likewise creates a world of his own, one grounded in reality but with his own wild twists and turns.
2. Where to begin: the doubleplay with names (Sosue, accent on the E, Snoopington the bank examiner, Joe Guelph the bartender), the bit about boondoggles, everything very steam of consciousness. Double enterdres, lots of sarcastic asides...Fields throws everything including the kitchen sink into the mix.
The Lompoc brewpubs in Portland, Oregon are named after the town in this movie. Well worth checking out whenever your in the Rose City.
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#39 Heather Mary

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 07:56 PM

Well known story of WC Fields on his deathbed. He was looking through Bible. His friend asked what are you doing. WC Fields said: "looking for loopholes".
It is interesting to look at the differences between WC Fields, the Marx brothers and Charley Chase. They are all very different. The exasperated Charlie Chase. Circumstances happened to him and he just dealt with it in his slapstick way. Sorry that wasn't 't very thorough. The Marx brothers all hysterical. Especially Groucho Marx with his clever wit fast talk. And now we have WC Fields. A cross between my dad ( May he rest in peace ), and Popeye . I love the way he mumbles under his breath and fumbled with his hat. Always there to get nothing done right. Stumbles his way through life. With child and wife. Love him.
Is verbal slapstick gags via Alan Dale's definition( I got his name right. Someone's ready for the quiz ). Well, he certainly violent with his little eight-year-old child. Thumbs up! And his fumbling with the broken down car. Offering but giving no help. Just creating a bigger mess. His Vaseline comment as he's entering the bar. Just verbal spouts here and there from him. Just very funny. And a good old belch at the end.
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#40 riffraf

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 07:06 PM

1.     Compared to the last two Daily Doses, how does W.C. Fields verbal slapstick compare to and/or differ from Charley Chase and the Marx Brothers?

 

In comparison to the earlier clips from Charley Chase and the Marx Brothers, W. C. Fields sets the tempo of the scene using his verbal comments and physical expressions/reactions to establish a rhythm all his own.  His slow and steady demeanour create a more sophisticated characterisation of a man who is steadfast in knowing who he is and what he wants as opposed to the Marx Brothers who are constantly bouncing off the walls and other people, always angling to manipulate others or better their own positions.  Charley Chase is more of a victim of circumstances as he moves from one situation to another whereas we learn early on with W. C. Fields who he is and what to expect from his character.  To paraphrase Buck Henry on Fields, “He’s this big lug you expect can’t make it across the street, much less someone to accomplish the physical/dexterity actions he does!” So not being able to pull off the high-energy shenanigans like the Marx Brothers, Fields specializes in playing off the double entendres and the repartee with a cool line delivery accented with a drink. 

 

2.     Based on Alan Dale's definition of verbal slapstick, what are some of the characteristic verbal "gags" that you noticed in watching this clip? Feel free to share some of your favourite lines from the clip as well.

 

Right off the bat we have the wife and mother-in-law complaining (verbally) about the Fields character smoking, drinking and reading detective magazines, so the verbal assault starts immediately & followed up with the physical attack (kicking) from his youngest daughter (physical/violence) which is escalated up to being hit in the back of the head with a ketchup bottle.  We learn verbally, that Fields had robbed the little girl’s piggy bank, leaving IOUs and thus justification for their anger.  Fields attempts to pick up a large decorative potted plant as if to throw it (exaggerated, physical) when interrupted by his older daughter with whom he seems to have a much better relationship. A well done verbal gag was all of Field’s advise to the stranded motorist who obviously had engine trouble yet Fields suggests remedies from tire air pressure to brakes (“have you had them tested lately?”), of course it may be “the wheel base”, then offers to fix the problem with a “shift expander” (monkey wrench) making us laugh at him if not his solution which sets us up for the sight gag of the engine falling out of the car.  So much for boondoggling, and that’s enough incentive to wander down to The Black **** Cat for the best food & beverage in town.  Ahhh yes, down the hatch! BELCH!


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