Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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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.

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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!"

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The plot is not subordinate to the comedy.  The gags in this film are less physical/chaotic/ “ritualistic” than in the Chase and Marx films we viewed.  The plot is a bit more complex.  Fields is less physical (although the characters around him perform the usual feats).   

Field’s dialogue is slower paced making his humor more thought provoking.  His character is lazy and boastful.  His contempt for certain things (like his family life, work, and certain occupations) comes through in his loaded, sarcastic, and irreverent remarks. 

I made note of some of the funny quotes (even the names of the players were humorous - Egbert SOUSE, Dr. STALL, Pinkerton SNOOPington, Ogillby):  “What’s a six letter word for embezzlement – prison”; Shall I bounce a rock off his head?  Respect your father…what kind of rock?”; I’m very fond of children-girl children-about 18 to 20”; “This place isn’t crowded is it? No… if it wasn’t for me the place would starve to death”;   “Take two pills in a glass of castor oil for two nights running”; “I know positively that our good friend Dr Stall has treated this boy for Malta fever, beriberi and that dreaded of all diseases Mogo on the Gagogo; If duty called I would go into the tsetse fly country of Africa and brave sleeping sickness if there were books to be examined; “The bank opens at ten..oh well that’s all right if I’m not there on time go right ahead without me”; “You mustn’t make fun of the gentlemen…you’d have to have a nose like that full of nickels, wouldn’t you?; The resale value of this car is going to practically nil when we get through with this trip”; “Mr. Snoopington is no longer a nightmare”.

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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?

 

WC Fields comedy seems more verbal than physical (except when he fights the girl and tries to fix the engine). Charley Chase seemed more physical than verbal. The Marx Brothers seemed to have the right amount of both.

 

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 would say the comment he makes comparing his daughter's fiancé' name to a bubble in a bath. Maybe how he mentions the area in the pub needing Vaseline and having a pole moved and then transitioning to cod liver mining.

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I don't think I've seen anything from Fields before, but I really enjoyed his comedic delivery.

 

I found his verbal slapstick to have some of the exasperation of Chase, but heightened and with a bit more contained anger, as well as some of the verbal wit of the Marx Brothers, but more down-to-earth or mundane. Maybe because the situations we find him in in this clip are more common and mundane. Anyway, like I said above, I really enjoyed his delivery. 

 

Another thing I really enjoyed was the sounds he made during some particular gags. For example, when the girl throws the bottle at him, or when the driver steps on his toes. Loved that.

 

As for the characteristic verbal gags, I loved the sarcasm and cynicism with which he treats his daughter's boyfriend and the pun with the guys' name.

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1. The only similarity I can see between W.C. Fields and Charley Chase is that they both wear suits. The similarities I can see between Fields and the Marx Brothers is the use of one-liners, malapropisms and a funny accent. However, the delivery is completely different. The Marx Brothers are wild and use a rapid-fire style and W.C. Fields is slow and methodical in his delivery. The Marx Brothers are also easier to understand than Fields is. You have to listen closely to W.C. Fields because of the accent he uses and the way he mumbles.

 

 2. I’ve watched the movie “The Bank Dick” many times and really enjoyed watching this clip. W.C. Fields is delightful as the scoundrel who insults people and drinks too much. The characteristics of verbal slapstick I noticed were the use of malapropisms, one-liners, and puns. 

 

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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?

 

My response: As what Dave Lightfoot pointed out, W.C. Fields is more verbal than physical, but not as quick as say Groucho or Charley. He's more of a bumbling buffoon in the guise of an upright gentleman whose not afraid to go off with the mouth, and the accent he uses is very iconic. He doesn't use a whole lot of energy when doing so, either, as if he talks like that on a daily basis, which wouldn't surprise me.

 

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.

 

My response: He definitely utilizes the one-liner to a tee, and Alan Dale is spot on about orotundity and vivid slang, for example: "Gimme the 'shift expander'!" and "You ever Boondoggle, Joe?".

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So I guess life just got in the way or the bits and pieces of Fields work I have seen didn't catch my funnybone. Found a new gemstone in comedy this week. His name W.C.Fields and he's on my bucket list.

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W.C. Fields.  I know of him, haven't watched much of him, but this clip has hooked me.  I feel like I'm going to need MONTHS to catch up on all of these slapstick films and actors that I want to see.  A huge thank you to TCM for this course as some of these gems are uncovered for me!

 

1)  W.C. Fields is much different than anything we've seen thus far in the slapstick genre.  His brand of slapstick has much less exaggeration.  He kind of "floats" through the film as a man just trying to get through his day.  You know, there are the occasional items thrown at his head, or the motor falling out of the car, but on the whole, this is much less "grand" than what we've seen so far.  I still love it.  Eager to see The Bank Dick in it's entirety.

 

2)  Oh my.... picking up the large potted plant to throw at the child and the facial expression is classic!  Even from the mother that exclaims you cannot do that to the child!   :) I'm also quite fond of the lady in the back of the car that commands the driver "listen to the man".  The man that clearly has no idea what he is doing.  In this clip, I feel much like I do with the Marx brothers' films.... you must devote your full attention to the movie, or you will miss something.  I cannot wait to see more of W.C. Fields!

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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?


 


Dave Lightfoot pointed out, W.C. Fields is more verbal than physical. Different than Groucho or Charley. He's more of a bumbling buffoon in the guise of an upright gentleman whose not afraid to go off with the mouth, and his accent is very iconic. Fields verbal slapstick is paced to make you listen for the barb, the on-liner and the sarcasim.


 


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 is very sarcasic which also seems to be normal for the character, that inself is funny. I enjoy his slow delivery that you have to listen to. He says names incorectly especially the tools during the car scene. The way he compares the boys name when introduced to a bubble bath. And the drink order at the bar when you finally realize the water part was to wash his hands. All verbal gags. The sight gags a hoot. Cig hiden in the mouth, then getting kicked to reveal the hidden smoke. The car driver stepping on his foot. The big pot he picked up to throw at his daughter. 


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W.C. Fields has a melodic lilt to it, highs and lows, pitch changes.  He slurs and drawls some words while others are very clear.  He parodies male social interaction in the useless bits of advice he gives, sometimes introspectively.   His gag lines sometimes are executed under his breath.  He speaks with stiff lips, or out of the side of his mouth when he makes a commentary, seems almost like, to some invisible listener (really, his audience).  His ouch sounds are hilarious, not what would be expected from a large man.  He makes high-pitched ouch-sounds, sounds like a hurt baby tiger,  He makes lots of little reaction sounds: eh!  mmehh!  ohhhh!  uh-uh, and more.

 

His little commentaries, as I mentioned, are what make his gags unique.  Some of my favourite in the clip: 

1.  Daughter introducing her boyfriend to him:  Daughter:  Father, this is Og Ogilvie

W.C. Fields (chuckles, hands the planter to Ogilvie)  Og Ogilivie.  Sounds like a bubble in a Bathtub-

 

2. (He enters the bar and bumps into a post)  Say, you might try to Vaseline this place in here or move the post over.

 

3.  I have a half interest in a cod liver oil mine..... We did a lot of boondoggling.  You ever boondoggle, Joe?

 

4.  Fields:  These clothes are pretty dry - gotta sprinkle them with alcohol.

 

5.  Then a customer comes in and sits beside him.  After his lifting-the-hat surprise reaction, he talks to the guy out of the side of his mouth, asks him if he met him at the Elks club. 

Fields:  Ever do any boondoggling? Guy says no, orders a beer. 

Fields:  Never have, eh?

Then he tells Joe to give him a pint of ???polish?

Fields:  Never done boondoggling --- must have been another fellow, I guess.

 

Funny!  Repetition of that funny word "boondoggling."  His after-though commentary, "I guess."

 

His jokes draw up impossible images... imagine a cod liver oil mine!

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The world of W.C. Fields seems like a darker place than the world of some of our other comedians. Children strike and embarrass their parents in this world. Beaten down men turn to drink for solace, but they still don't necessarily roll over and take their beatings without a fight. Fields fights back, and his own exaggerated ferocity tends to shed light on the bullying nature of the characters and situations that assail him. He fights fire with fire, saving the water to rinse his hands after a good tipple.

 

If the later Fields is less physical with his slapstick, I think his comedy still plays because the world around him is so physically oppressive that it picks up any slack in activity. The world fights dirty and hits him hard, but without hurting him so much that he can't come back with a slurred and drawling zinger to put the things that offend him back in their places.

 

I think the comedy of W.C. Fields takes us closer to tragedy than that of any other comedian. We're laughing, but we're also getting awfully close to the verge of weeping. The funny one-liners abruptly re-channel our emotions at the last minute, but there's always a hint of residual uneasiness lingering in the background.

 

"I was in love with a beautiful blonde once, dear. She drove me to drink. That's the one thing I'm so indebted to her for."

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I know W.C Fields, his name is too familiar to not recognize, but I admit I have not seen him in many movies. (I’ve mainly seen the silent ones.) I am happy to have been introduced to this film! This clip reeled me in and I will be sure to see the full movie! Thanks to this course I will be able to enjoy W.C movies in a whole new and different level than I would have without it!

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 it differs from Chase and Marx Bro’s verbal slapstick in the sense that W.C Fields is much less exaggerated, he is more straight to the point, blunt, serious to the point where you can’t help but find it funny. He says what’s on his mind and doesn’t hold back, and has a way of carrying himself where you believe that in his mind, his word is law. He is an average man, yet, one with perhaps a very big ego. In similarities, I feel that his work like Marx and Chase carries a lot of puns, sarcasm and outrageous metaphors. Well mostly Marx Bro’s/W.C Fields. I cannot really include Chase since I have yet to truly see his work. (I have yet to see a full movie of his unlike Fields)

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 noticed a lot of sarcasm, perhaps to me, W.C Field’s greatest trait, outrageous metaphors, insipid verbosity, basically all of them, and my favorites have got to be the lines,

Egbert: Oggilby? Sounds like a bubble in a bathtub!
Egbert: Say, you oughta vaseline this place in here or move the post over.
Egbert: These cloves are pretty dry, you’ll have to sprinkle them with alcohol!

I am enjoying this so much and exploring W.C Fields is really interesting, since his comedy really tends to stick out from the rest of the comedians we are learning about. He is a mix of them all, only thing is, he is much more toned down and literally relatable in an actual normal sense. He feels like the guy you would actually meet, and in this movie I can’t help but feel like I can almost see a grandfather here, who has lived it all in life but is ready for many more adventures, even if he seems like he couldn’t give two cents. He is raw, but a total clown that yes is rude, but you can’t help but want to hug the man and tell him “I get it”.   
 

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The last two videos presented at Daily Dose of Doozy were much verborragical driven by its main characters. Charley Chase was trying to solve a personal problem and had control of the situation and The Marx Brothers were arguing about a contract on their own way. On this particular case, W. C. Fields keeps himself resigned to the path the other characters point him. He has no active voice, so his verbal contribution here is almost passive one. His lines are there to contribute to the plot, not to drive them.

 

"Sounds like a bubble on the bathtub". The sarcasm and irony here is really clear, and it is one of the characteristics pointed by Dale's definition. We have at least one more of it clear through the clip: the strong accent of Fields. A deep analysis of the hole movie, however, would point more elements other than these ones.

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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?

 

The clip shows W.C. Fields as a man oppressed in a female household. He is criticized by his mother, wife and daughter, not without reason, of course. I can envision one of the Marx brothers (Harpo in special) eating a cigarette if he wasn’t supposed to be smoking – Groucho, on the other hand, is more the kind of a guy who would use the cigarette to set fire to the clothes of whoever was complaining. But we can’t deny that Fields displays a bit of anarchy:: he assaults his younger daughter’s piggy bank (action unseen) and, after she throws a bottle in his head as vengeance, he decides to throw a big plant vase in the women’s head. He is stopped, but I doubt any of the Marxes would be stopped from doing the same.

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 identify one-liners and orotundism in W.C. Fields’ speech.

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Hi, I did enjoy the direct no nonsense verbal jabs of W.C. Fields in the clip.

 

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?  W.C. Fields is direct and as I read in regards to the dose of doozy- confined his comedy to domestic life.  The Marx Brothers brand of comedy is also verbal and witty in the use of banter.  

 

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 liked many parts of the clip, for instance where W.C. Fields swallows the cigarette as he decends the stairs, listening to how he shouldn't be smoking.  W. C. Fields then opens his mouth, a puff of smoke billows out and he loses the cigarette when the child kicks him- then his wife exclaims how she knew he was smoking.  Another funny moment is when his daughter introduces her beau and W. C. Fields declares that names sounds like a bathtub.

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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? Fields is fantastic in his ability to play a clueless and ineffectual ne'er do well, who has managed to keep his family. His family's tolerance and intolerance of his antics just add to the hilarity. You can't help but love him. Chase and the Marx brothers appear to have certain obvious schtick whereas Fields just comes off as an Everyman

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W.C. Fields is shown as being cramped up with the family and always tries to get out in some cases. He murmurs anything without someone hearing him talk. He always drinks to escape from whatever seems to bother him or bug him. The Marx Brothers were more loose as in loose animals in a zoo. Charley Chase seemed embarrassed in different situations. When the little girl throws a bottle at the back of his head after he patted the little girl's head. I love the line that Mrs. Brunch says "Imagine a man who takes money out of a child's piggyback puts in I.O.U.s."

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Fields' movements are not as expansive as the Marx Brothers. He gets a lot out of small gestures.

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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.

The curators notes on this one talk about the idea of a clown tradition built around the performer. I think that is completely accurate when dealing with this clip. It's his performance, his use of dialogue and sly insults that really make the clip work. And it's not just verbal either, the thing with the throwing things at his daughter and her chucking things right back is purely physical and escalates to the point where he's about to lob a heavy potted plant towards her and then we are reminded that he's about to throw that at a child, indeed he is reminded too. He's been caught up with the repetitive retaliation so much that he forgets himself. When looking at him in context with the marx brother and charley chase, charley seemed to be caught in these situations that quickly got out of hand whereas for fields it's more about small hilarious quips or vignettes. Fields seems much more natural in his environment and that makes the whole sequence feel more real.  There's nothing REAL about the Marx brothers...it's complete and utter chaos. 

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When one compare him to Charley Chase and the The Marx Brothers, I feel that W.C.Fields is a comedian with family man instincts. In here, he is shown as trying to escape his "family" jungle and get on the outside world. Charley Chase is shown as a timid comedian with antics of an average man. The Marx Brothers are seen as animals who are not tamed along with their instincts but they try their best to show the social animals living inside them. The charecteristic gags shown in this scene are sarcasm and orotundity.

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