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


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#41 drzhen

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 06:28 PM

Whether in a sotto voce aside or a bombastic, exaggerated or blustery manner, Field's 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.


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#42 Pjdamon

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 06:26 PM

Fields is more like the uncle that no one in the family wants to talk about. In this film he tolerates his family, this is evident in the brief exchange with his wife and younger daughter. They were snide remarks with a side of humor in them. He not only talks to himself but it appears basically with no one in particular. For example when he is sitting at the bar, he really doesn't talk to Shemp Howard or the guy sitting next to him. Chase is different in that respect because he will "complain" to anyone that listens. The Marx brothers do the gags by playing off each other with a fast pace rhythm. Fields also makes ups words or fractures them.

His verable gags center around his slow and deliberate delivery with different levels of sarcasm.
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#43 Janeko

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 05:41 PM

W. C. Fields' delivery of lines is slower than The Marx Brothers and even Chase. He doesn't speak in what we would consider a normal speaking voice but much of the time uses a sonorous tone.

 

Fields sometimes speaks directly to the other person but often he's simply making asides, almost like he's thinking out loud.  Sometimes he's sarcastic, at other times he's simply commenting on his view of the situation. Of course, he has no filter!!  

 

Unfortunately because he sometimes mumbles, there were a couple of times when I couldn't catch what he was saying, even after watching the clip 3 or 4 times.

 

He meets Dale's definition because of his sarcastic asides, "orotundity," one liners (vaseline the place or move the pole), and vivid slang (boondoggling). I did love the line about the man's name sounding like a bubble in a bathtub!!

 

I was surprised about the physical abuse between an adult (Fields) and a child (his daughter, who certainly wasn't a little darling!!)

 

 

 

 


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#44 Chris_Coombs

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 05:09 PM

I found the comedy in the Charlie Chase more situational. There wasn't a verbal sparring or clever dialogue skit. He talked out of the side of his mouth from the situation, and talked funny to the Pip when she comes up behind him, but there was no verbal routine or play on words.

The Marx Brothers seem to have a lot of sparring between people. Sometimes between Groucho and Chico, sometimes between a Marx Brother and a straight man. But the comedy comes from the back and fourth - the way one responds to the other.

W.C. Fields the comedy is all on him and what he says, much of which is an aside to himself (and the audience). He is often commenting on the world around him.

 

Some of the things Alan Dale used to describe visual slapstick are here with Fields:

- the sarcastic aside (sounds like a bubble in a bathtub),

-  orotundity (his manner of speaking),

- one-liners (You'll have to Vaseline this place),


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#45 moviequeen2

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 04:21 PM

W.C. Fields is certainly a lot more subtle in is comedy than all of the others that we have studied so far. He is the verbal equivalent of a Silent Buster Keaton who shows no emotion in his gags where as W.C. Fields has no emotion in his voice when he makes a verbal gag.

#46 oregon1965

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 03:32 PM

I like how WC fields kind of wanders through the scene throwing out barbs and the scene with the child where he picks up the planter, we wonder would he really have thrown it ? then he meets his Daughters boyfriend OG ogilvey sounds like a tumble in the bathtub to funny


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#47 MrZerep

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 03:02 PM

Charley Chase didn't really have verbal slapstick in the clip, rather he talked nicely in order to get to his goal or to get rid of someone.  ("Would you read this to me?" and "If you find out which lunch is Miss Todd's I'll dance with you.")

​The Marx Brothers literally use verbal slapstick as an all out verbal free for all- one volley after another.  W.C. Fields is rather subdued and his verbal slapstick is gentler vs. the Marx Bros.  Asking if the barkeep and customer ever boondoggled is a nice moment in the clip.  Fields reminds me of the relative that almost each family has- the pompous one who brags about everything, yet has nothing.

 

 

 

"Og Ogglivy...sounds like a bubble in the bathtub."  Funny line when meeting his daughter's boyfriend.  Sounds like a pleasant insult.

"Vaseline this place or move the post over."  Classic line in reference to him getting in between the booth and hat rack- make his entrance easier I suppose.

"These clothes are pretty dry, so I'll sprinkle 'em with alcohol."  Immediately thought of "How Dry I Am."  Addds to bios character that spends most of his time at the local tavern.

 

Loved Shemp as the bartender.  I found it interesting he is whistling "Listen to the Mockingbird" as he opens the bar; was he telling us to listen to whatever Fields would utter and it would bring us joy?  Interesting choice of music for him to whistle.



 


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#48 gtunison

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 02:59 PM

I think Fields says what we are thinking and could say sometimes.

 

Fields tends to talk to himself more and is bombastic with what he is saying. When he walks into the bar and starts to walk between the booth and the post he says to himself referring to Joe the bartender that he needs to vasoline the place or move the post over. Then he orders a drink. Joe puts the bottle down in front of him and a glass of water. I always expect Fields to chase the shot withe the water but he washes his hands in it instead.

 

 


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#49 jay1458

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 02:38 PM

In comparison, I think that Charley Chase is more suave and debonair Where as the Marx  Brothers are more of a team that work together to pull off some of their gags.Fields is more of a dark performer in the "clown tradition".

In this clip, fields  comes down stairs smoking doesn't want his wife to know so he swallows it while its lit. He tries to help the driver with his car being somewhat sarcastic and the drive steps in his foot.



#50 laurel stumpf

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 01:25 PM

Fields is good at playing smarter than he really is, the big faker! :)Chase is the master of exasperation. Marx brothers are master of lunacy! I love his battle of wills with children! :)
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#51 mandog917

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 01:22 PM

1. The verbal slapstick of Fields is usually under the breath while The Marx Brothers are in your face. I think Charlie Chase is somewhere between. Fields is more believable in that he is just trying to get through the day and his quiet antics usually keep him out of trouble. If the Marx Brothers, especially Groucho, acted in real life like they did on screen, I think they'd regularly get slapped, poked in the eyes, and hit on the head with rolling pins. I think Charlie Chase is somewhere between. I think I have all the Fields and Marx movies on DVD and always liked Charlie Chase.  Hilarious stuff!

 

2. Vivid slang -shifting spanner.

 

Og Oggilby is one of the funniest character names I've ever heard.

 

I love the cod liver oil mine and a certain other mine that comes in the plot later (I won't use 

spoilers).  Can't wait to watch The Bank Dick tonight!

 


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#52 judith46

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 01:17 PM

The main thing I had to add was how much I disagree with Mast's characterization of Fields' onscreen persona:

 

But Fields frequently finds himself with a wife, a daughter, or both, who depend on him for support. Confined by this domestic prison, Fields never keeps his opinion of his captors a secret: first, he comments about them under his breath; second, he escapes to the masculine freedom of the local tavern; and third, he resorts to direct assault. Where the Marx Brothers films comment on the grand social institutions, the Fields films usually confine themselves to the family, where Fields himself is confined."

 

 

It's almost like he was asked to come up with it while standing on one foot.  W.C. always had two main screen characters (excluding Macawber and Humpty Dumpty, of course): the put upon henpecked husband who manages to win in the end (The Bank Dick, It's A Gift & Man On The Flying Trapeze) and the skilled, unscrupulous conman/hustler as in The Old Fashioned Way, Six of a Kind, My Little Chickadee (granted that character met his match in Mae West) and Million Dollar Legs for example.

 

Look at this clip from Million Dollar Legs where W.C. confirms he's still President of Klopstokia at the morning cabinet meeting

 

 

And Honest John in Six of a Kind is hardly confined in a domestic prison

 

 

 

So at the very least Mast paints an incomplete picture of WC Fields on the screen.

Now This was funny!


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#53 judith46

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 01:05 PM

With Mast's comments about societal constraints in mind, I see that Fields is rebellious against his judgmental family and his obligation to them.  In reaction and wishing to take charge of something, he meddles with a mechanic and "gets what he deserves", which is a crunch on the foot. Lots of sarcastic asides, violence, and bits like swallowing the cigarette.  Fields is more sophisticated than Chase, though operating much the same way.  His cutting asides are like Groucho, but more malicious.  He is alchoholic, rude, cynical.

 

I never have liked Fields, never thought he was funny even when I was a child.  I guess its the misogyny and misanthropy that turns me off and gives me a chill inside.  He's a clown, but an evil one.  Humor really is a double-edged sword isn't it?


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#54 jkbrenna

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 01:02 PM

Compared to Charley Chase and the Marx Brothers, Fields doesn't exaggerate his verbal gags.  His voice is steady and calm.  The Marx Brothers are rapid fire verbal gags which works for them and us.  Fields, I think, is smoother.  I'm not as crazy about Charley Chase, who in the shorts I've watched, he is too exaggerated to pull off decent acting, than I am of the others we're studying.  In the Pip from PittsburgH (there should be an H at the end of Pittsburgh), and in Dollar Dizzy, I didn't get the sense that he or the women were good actors.  Just my opinion.  But, maybe that's why I had never heard of Chase until this week.

 

I did like the tip of the hat to Chaplin, with the hat shaking (not sure how to describe it) and the kick of the wad of paper to the side.

 

Verbal gags: unfortunately I didn't catch everything Fields said cause he sort of mumbles and I would have to watch the clip a third time to be able to quote lines.

 

Enjoying this.



#55 savaney

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 12:48 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?

 

Judging by the clip, Fields seems more relaxed and naturalistic in his surroundings. He looks pretty content, even in the most outrageous situations. His mannerisms, facial expressions, body language, and delivery is more subtle than Chase and the Marx Brothers. He uses self-awareness to his comedy, in which he deals with everyday things that can easily happen in real life. The gags that he used in his films are sharp and pitch perfect, meaning that they mesh well in the plot.

 

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.

 

There is a level of deftness and sarcasm in the back-and-forth delivery of lines and dialogue. He also uses words that sound like gibberish and unrealistic, but the vocabulary turns out to be part of the overall charm. The words sound fake, but they actually enhance the action and moments taking place in the film.

 

Favorite lines from the clip and the film: "Og Oggilby... sounds like a bubble in a bathtub!", "Don't be a luddy-duddy! Don't be a mooncalf! Don't be a jabbernowl! You're not those, are you?", and "The jockey was a very insulting fellow. He referred to my proboscis as an adscititious excrescence. I had to tweak his nose."


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#56 MrDougLong

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 12:48 PM

1.       Like Charley Chase in “Pip from Pittsburg,” Fields’ screen persona condescends to the people around him and he spends much time complaining about them. Their styles are entirely different, though. Whereas Chase has a high energy, Fields is nearly devoid of it. Whereas Chase imagines himself a bon vivant with stinging bon mots, Fields is a grumpy old man stewing and ruing the people who (as Dale points out) constrain him, in this case wife, mother-in-law & young daughter. Fields differs even more from the Marx Brothers. In the “Sanity Clause” scene from “A Night at the Opera,” Chico and Groucho tangle a discussion into a confused, intricate, hilarious web, bouncing off the other’s confusion, and as Dale points, theirs is a more anarchic world in which whole systems are rejected (in this case, legal documents). Fields’ critiques are often under his breath as he finds himself trapped socially. After enduring their critique as he walks through the dining room, he volleys a few harsh words toward the women in his family, but quickly escapes to the bar, where he finds himself sitting next to a nearly catatonic patron who disrupts his plan for a relaxed exile.

2.       This scene from “The Bank Dick” includes several classic W.C. Fields “verbal slapstick” tropes. He relishes using unusual words like “boondoggling” and coining alliterative phrases like “Sounds like a bubble in a bathtub.” It also, of course, includes some traditional physical slapstick, including bonking his daughter on the head (with sound effect), followed by her following suit (with cowbell noise), and nearly throwing a planter at her. The bit with the chauffeur ends up, predictably and humorously, with Fields screwing things up (the engine falls to the ground). In the bar, he does the classic Fields bit where as part of a double take, he grabs his boater to keep it from popping off.


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#57 redpaws

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 12:48 PM

I agree that the Marx brothers cannot be "class" placed-they do not merly meander over class levels in society they push threw ,over,and conquer all society levals. W.C. Fields however seems always slightly out of step with what ever place or environment he finds himself in.He reminds me of the "uncle" that the family is slightly embaressed about-rumpled clothes,smelly cigar,gravel course voice,and way to often slightly tipsy with drink,and talking under his breath about his feelings towards family members.


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#58 CynthiaV

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 12:37 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 the clips showcased Chase's comedy style is the exact opposite of Fields'. Chase is self effacing, unassuming, humble. Fields is biggety, boastful, grandiose. In his own way Fields is also self effacing and unassuming shown by the number of times he allows himself to be gotten the better of but with Chase it's part of his obvious schitck. With Fields the audience enjoys it but he doesn't play up to it. He simply allows it to act as a foil to his pomposity. It provides him with a sympathetic depth in his characterization. Both comedians rely much on their faces to get across their humor but where Chase's face is average and attractive, Fields' face is aberrant, off key. It's partly why we laugh so easily at him. I especially loved the homage to Chaplin, the fingers in the water chaser, the unexpected ballet like kick of the napkin from such an unathletic looking man. Good stuff...

Mast makes a great point about the differences between Fields' and the Marx Brothers. Fields constrains his humor. It is more a domestic humor which brings to mind the likes of more contemporary comics like Rodney Dangerfield. The Marx Brothers give themselves no such constraints. They roam about like wild animals destroying the landscape and anyone in their paths. Because they are a troupe they can broaden their humor and each can take on a very specific characterization. Fields, as a lone comedian, once he presented himself in a certain characterization couldn't roam too far afield. He worked alongside many great character actors but often must be his own comedian and straight man. He is often the butt of his own gags, the bottle in the head, the stomped foot. The Marx Brothers take their licks but are often victorious at the end of the gag. Not so Fields. The gag ends and he limps away holding his head. Ouch!

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.

As Dale pointed out, Fields use of orotundity. Just the tone and pitch of his voice affects an air of pomposity and grandiosity. He knows how to do everything because he's already done it himself. Juxtapose this with his appearance with his big belly, straw or top hat, floppy neck tie and later on spats, cane and checkered waistcoat and all combine to provide the audience with a new age clown. His naturally reddened, bulbous nose completes the look. No facepaint is necessary.

We laugh at him but also with him as he slings sarcastic asides, "Og Oggilby. Sounds like a bubble in a bathtub," one liners, "Mine's a poultice," vivid slang, "boondoggle," outrageous metaphors, "Take off your hat in the presence of a gentleman" (to a whiskey bottle), "Give me a shift expander...A monkey wrench," nonsequiturs, "Are you carrying the proper amount of air in the tires? Had the brakes tested lately? 'Course it may be the wheel base?" (to an exasperated chauffeur attempting to fix a stalled automobile), malapropisms, "I had a half interest in a cod liver oil mine...." So much to appreciate in such a short clip.
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#59 John_Simpson

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 12:29 PM

The main thing I had to add was how much I disagree with Mast's characterization of Fields' onscreen persona:

 

But Fields frequently finds himself with a wife, a daughter, or both, who depend on him for support. Confined by this domestic prison, Fields never keeps his opinion of his captors a secret: first, he comments about them under his breath; second, he escapes to the masculine freedom of the local tavern; and third, he resorts to direct assault. Where the Marx Brothers films comment on the grand social institutions, the Fields films usually confine themselves to the family, where Fields himself is confined."

 

 

It's almost like he was asked to come up with it while standing on one foot.  W.C. always had two main screen characters (excluding Macawber and Humpty Dumpty, of course): the put upon henpecked husband who manages to win in the end (The Bank Dick, It's A Gift & Man On The Flying Trapeze) and the skilled, unscrupulous conman/hustler as in The Old Fashioned Way, Six of a Kind, My Little Chickadee (granted that character met his match in Mae West) and Million Dollar Legs for example.

 

Look at this clip from Million Dollar Legs where W.C. confirms he's still President of Klopstokia at the morning cabinet meeting

 

 

And Honest John in Six of a Kind is hardly confined in a domestic prison

 

 

 

So at the very least Mast paints an incomplete picture of WC Fields on the screen.


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#60 BLACHEFAN

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 12:07 PM

1. Fields' use of sophisticated wit and upper level diction that almost feels reminiscent of a dickensian novel from the 19th century and he does feel like a paternal figure of the household with a cranky and bemusing attitude to his character. Mast's description about W.C. Fields and the roles he plays in a domesticated comedy is very accurate since it differs from Charley Chase's comedies as well as the Marx Brothers who were at first anarchic then became accomplices for the main hero in their later movies.

 

2. The verbal gags include the use of the names for the characters in the film such as Egbert Souse, and Og Oggilby. He also used the term "boondoggling" that is not the same as bootlegging, the term is old fashioned and out of date that was originally meant to waste money or time unnecessary or questionable projects. My favorite quip from Fields is: "Give me a Shift Expender." James: "Huh?" Souse: "A monkey wrench."


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