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


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#61 ameliajc

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 11:55 AM

Like a couple of other folks, I'm hung up on "boondoggling," It's so common today that I was a little bit surprised to see that it was still a new-ish term in 1940 when this film was made, and therefore not unexpected that the bartender and drinking companion didn't know the term. It started out as a word for braiding those cowboy / Boy Scout lanyards, and apparently was first used generally in 1935. That's the meaning that Fields starts off with, since it was the kind of work done by cowboys in their off time and what he supposedly did in his idle hours in the Yukon winters. But by 1937 it had become a term for an extravagant waste of time, especially in connection with government projects. It might be said that Boondoggling is what WC Fields did best. The use of slang is key to Verbal Slapstick, especially funny-sounding words that can be confusing and humorously applied. Although my OED doesn't say so, it wouldn't surprise me if a film like The Bank Dick would help to popularize the term to the general public.


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#62 Barracuda89

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 11:46 AM

1. When compared to Charley Chase and the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields brand of slapstick almost provides a better payoff because it is delivered much slower, and perhaps, a bit more deliberately. As noted by Gerald Mast, Fields has a domestic element not present in Marx Brothers comedies. He is also not delivering rapid-fire dialogue like the foursome. Fields relies on his reactions to the physical humor of his gags more so than a rapid dialogue exchange. What is also unique to Fields is the way he uses space in his gags. Fields is obviously a larger man than any of the Marx Brothers or Charley Chase, and instead of shying away from that fact, he uses it to his advantage making his gags even more funny in a unique way. 

 

2. Before I get into the characteristics of the verbal gags Fields employs, I want to remark at how much I enjoyed his line delivery. I have never seen a W.C. Fields movie in its entirety, only clips; which is why I'm grateful to see The Bank Dick on TCM tonight. Being largely unfamiliar with him I am stricken by his pacing and deliberate dialogue, and quite enjoy it. 

 

Some characteristics of verbal slapstick according to Alan Dale that W.C. Fields used were the sarcastic asides, especially when talking to the man in the bar, and the comeback when interacting with the man at the car. 


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"You should never, never doubt what nobody is sure about."--Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka


#63 ln040150

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 11:36 AM

Fields' pace is much slower, usually, and his volume is lower as well, and he generally speaks as if he is speaking to a person rather than to the camera (the audience) giving a much more intimate sense than Chase or the Marx Brothers. In this particular clip we heard some sarcasm ("you need some vaseline to get through here"), a lot of his characteristic "orotundity" in regard to his "cod liver oil mine," one-liners like "sounds like a bubble in a bathtub, vivid slang in "boondoggling' and a vicious double entendre in "Give the gentleman what he asks for, James."
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#64 Lawrence Wolff

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 11:20 AM

Agreed, Fields pace is a bit slower and I think it adds to his charm. Despite his situation, he is confident and quite at ease with himself.

 

I also agree. The slow pace of his talking fits his jokes to a "T".



#65 Lawrence Wolff

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 11:15 AM

1) Fields was a master of verbal comedy. His asides and comments are different from Charley Chase and the Marx Brothers as much of his conversation is with himself, but loud enough for us to hear and be let in on the joke. Charley and the Brothers Marx's comments were their comments on what is going on and for others to ignore or be a part of.

 

2) Fields mumbles his lines and makes sarcastic comments. He says "Og Ogilby. Sounds like a bubble in a bathtub" but isn't fazed by saying right in front of the person he insulted. And boondoggling! Who else has ever used this as a part of normal conversation? This film is a wonderful display of Fields' verbal humor.

 

I particularly like his almost returning fire to his youngest daughter by wanting to throw a potted plant at her, only to be stopped (unknowingly) by his oldest daughter. A great scene.

 

 

A wonderful comedian and one of a kind. Very much under-appreciated today. He learned to make unkind mumbled comments from his Mother, who would do this with neighbors from their front porch. Mrs. Fields, "Good morning Mrs. Dunk. How is Mr. Dunk today?" Mrs. Dunk, "Not well, I'm afraid. He's very ill today." Mrs. Fields, "Oh, that's too bad."  Then mumbling to young Bill Fields, "Probably had too much to drink last night."

 

Besides learning to say funny things (almost) under his breath from his Mother, he also inherited his nose from her.

 

His other GREAT film (although ALL are very entertaining), is "It's a Gift" wherein is he attacked, in various ways, by nasty and unkind people. Catch it when you can.


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#66 picasso55

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 11:06 AM

1.  The one thing I noted about W.C. Fields is that he has a great many conversations with himself. The verbal banter between Chico and Groucho might have an aside by Groucho, but their conversations always built to a climax. Charlie Chase was a complainer and would direct his comments of exasperation at most anyone. Fields had a wonderful touch of sarcasm and pseudo-intellectualism in his comments, whether talking to himself or addressing his adversaries. As we saw in the clip, his family members were his primary adversaries, and there was a bite in every sentence.

 

2.  Fields was a genius at verbal slapstick, and he demonstrated it well in "The Bank Dick". He was certainly bombastic when he was interfering with the car repairs. His dialogue is a collections of one-liners and puns with a great use of slang (boondoggling) and non-sequiturs. There was the characteristic battle with young children, in this case it was his daughter, and the youngster always seems to get the better of him. There is the classic Fields delivery that makes him sound like he is always drunk, and his timing is impeccable. When you think about it, most successful verbal slapstick resulted from a partnership between two actors, but Fields accomplished excellent without a partner by talking to himself. This helped the audience "get inside his head".

If you have not yet seen this entire picture, I strongly recommend it as well as It's a Gift. WC Fields sets the standard for this type of character. He is hen pecked and made miserable at home but always strives to provide for his unappreciative family yet his characters always find a ray of sunshine somewhere to lighten his load. The tradition was carried forward to a more sophisticated degree by Jackie Gleason in Pappa's Delicate Condition.



#67 picasso55

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 10:58 AM

In comparing the three daily doozys W.C.Fields seems to have a slower version of the Marx Brothers banter. Also while the Marx Brothers seem irreverent by ignoring the rules to their situation and Chase desperate trys to change the situation Fields seems unhappily (and comically) resigned.

I love the way Fields used the word boondoggling as if it was a sport like fishing. I admit I had to look boondoggling up to find out that it meant “work or activity that is wasteful but appears to have value.” ---”Ever do any Boondoggling?”

 

Agreed, Fields pace is a bit slower and I think it adds to his charm. Despite his situation, he is confident and quite at ease with himself.


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#68 Bluboo

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 10:26 AM

1.  The one thing I noted about W.C. Fields is that he has a great many conversations with himself. The verbal banter between Chico and Groucho might have an aside by Groucho, but their conversations always built to a climax. Charlie Chase was a complainer and would direct his comments of exasperation at most anyone. Fields had a wonderful touch of sarcasm and pseudo-intellectualism in his comments, whether talking to himself or addressing his adversaries. As we saw in the clip, his family members were his primary adversaries, and there was a bite in every sentence.

 

2.  Fields was a genius at verbal slapstick, and he demonstrated it well in "The Bank Dick". He was certainly bombastic when he was interfering with the car repairs. His dialogue is a collections of one-liners and puns with a great use of slang (boondoggling) and non-sequiturs. There was the characteristic battle with young children, in this case it was his daughter, and the youngster always seems to get the better of him. There is the classic Fields delivery that makes him sound like he is always drunk, and his timing is impeccable. When you think about it, most successful verbal slapstick resulted from a partnership between two actors, but Fields accomplished excellent without a partner by talking to himself. This helped the audience "get inside his head".


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#69 goingtopluto

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 09:59 AM

In comparing the three daily doozys W.C.Fields seems to have a slower version of the Marx Brothers banter. Also while the Marx Brothers seem irreverent by ignoring the rules to their situation and Chase desperate trys to change the situation Fields seems unhappily (and comically) resigned.

I love the way Fields used the word boondoggling as if it was a sport like fishing. I admit I had to look boondoggling up to find out that it meant “work or activity that is wasteful but appears to have value.” ---”Ever do any Boondoggling?”
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#70 TonyZao

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 09:55 AM

W.C. Fields is one of the most underrated geniuses ever existed. His films and persona are not only funny and timeless, but has influenced a huge crowd of more modern film and TV characters such as Homer from The Simpsons and Al Bundy from Married with Children.

 

Compared to Charley Chase and the Marx Brothers, Fields' humor is not so crazy and anarchic, and his films have a more sophisticated plot that actually makes sense. His troubles are more realistic and everyday; his wife, children, neighbors and people he meets with. His persona is a character you can identify yourself easily, a hapless husband who likes to drink and is socially awkward. His films and the dialogues in them are not so fast-paced and his verbal slapstick relies more on his unique, peculiar way of expressing himself, as well as the fact he talks exactly the same way no matter who he's talking to and under what conditions.

 

Malapropisms, mispronunciations, strange names (his characters are rarely named ordinarily) and pompuous talk with a unique accent appear frequently in W.C. Fields' verbal repertoire. When he's seen drinking or being drunk, his way of talking is emphasized as to resemble that of a drunk man, and is usually combined with visual gags which, as shown in this clip, were always an important part of his comedies. 

 

In this clip we watch him not hesitating to argue with his younger daughter, giving his wishes to his eldest one, trying to prove he knows about cars and, of course, having a drink. His face expressions, his way of talking and the visual gags he used made him one of the best when it comes to combine visual and verbal slapstick.


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#71 Mandroid51

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 09:34 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?

Possibly my favorite of the three daily doozies, but WC Fields (on top of being hilarious which I had no idea) is the archetype for so many of the modern father figures depicted in television situational comedy -the series dads including Archie Bunker, Fred Flinstone, Al Bundy, and of course the animated Homer Simpson and Family guy, etc. I think it compares to Marx Bros level of verbal comedy and even gives us a little more to chew on...

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.

The funniest: "Og Ogilby" "sounds like a bubble in the bath" lol! and "boondoggling" or whatever that was or meant :)
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#72 Dr. Rich Edwards

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 09:25 AM

Here is the next Daily Dose.

 

As always, it will also be archived at Canvas.net course site.

 

Enjoy your discussions!


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Richard Edwards, PhD

Ball State University

Instructor: TCM Presents: The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock (2017)

Instructor: TCM Presents: Painfully Funny: Exploring Slapstick in the Movies (2016)

Instructor: TCM Presents: Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir (2015)

 

 





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