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W.C. Fields


Madden01
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I've seen a few of Fields movies but my favorite is The Bank Dick.

I put a review and a show it suggestion on this site today. If it is shown I hope many of you will watch it. It moves along quite fast and I had to see it a few times before I caught it all. Not that many movies make me laugh out loud but this one does repeatedly. I would bet that a lot of comedy film makers have used this style and even some of the jokes in later movies. It seems to be a very timeless movie and could substitute many of the charachters with actors of today. The one fellow that is really unique however is W.C. Fields. His body language and use of crazy words and comments are hilarious.

Have others here seen it?

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  • 3 weeks later...

The odd thing about Fields is how phenomenal his popularity has shrunk. As a lad in the 1960's, he was so highly regarded, Everyone knew Fields quotes. In popular culture, he was often referenced, his films were easily seen, at least one , from the Universal or Paramount MCA libraries would show on TV during the week, and even collectible artifacts were commonly available, from records of film soundtracks and radio appearances to such vulgarities such as light-up nose statuettes for a home bar. No impersonator's repitoire was complete without a Fields routine. As late as the mid 1980's, a documentary was done on him that was rerun on Public Television for several years; "W.C.FIELDS STRAIGHT UP", worthy of narration by 80's superstar Dudley Moore.

But what's happened? Why has all the attention shriveled up? Can it be that his masculine world of drinking, gambling and kid-hating is too cynical for the younger generation's tender politically correct sensibilities?

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I think it is probably just demographics, and the fans of the comedians of the 1930s have died out. The Marx Brothers were hugely popular when I was in high school and college (1975-83). It was unthinkable for a year to pass without one film society in Cleveland not to have a couple of Marx Brothers nights. Now I doubt if any of the students at the college I teach at could tell the difference between the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges.

 

Perhaps PC does have something to do with it, or maybe people are far less willing to sit through black-and-white.

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What happened to the grown ups? I really date myself , thinking back on my earlier thread- A youngster today has no idea who what an impressionist/impersonator might be, because there aren't any any more. There's nobody with enough personality to impersonate.

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Going back to my thread, in that "Marx Brothers" era in Cleveland, Fields was not that much of a presence. Perhaps because Universal (or whoever held the rights to the Universal films) wasn't that big into the revivial house market? Also, wasn't "It's a Gift" very slow to be released to home video. Access or the lack of it can kill off popularity more than we might like to think.

 

As for impressionists, I remember reading someone ridicule Rich Little in 2007 for still doing the same voices (Nixon, et. al.) as part of his act. Who's he going to do instead? John McCain? Tom Cruise?

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Fact & Mike, couldn't agree more on your host of issues. The refusal to put these on home-video, the refusal to broadcast them, and whatever burial tactics the rightsholders pursue will eventually kill off more than just W. C. Fields' presence. So many rightsholders were happy enough to let their tins of films sit and deteriorate into nothing, and that's really brought out the Public Domain Spirit. These works were meant to be seen, not buried.

 

While the two boxsets have done a good job in bringing some of his films out, there are still more than that whose IMDB descriptions are enough to remind me that I've seen that at one time or another.

 

Fact, your "What's wrong with grown-ups" and "lack of anyone to impersonate" reminds me of the thread about OUT OF THE PAST, when someone commented about Kirk Douglas being 31 at the time, Mitchum was 30, Jane Greer was 23 and Rhonda Fleming was 24. We don't see performances like that from contemporary artists who've passed 40. And I don't consider OUT OF THE PAST to be the sole pinnacle of that type but one of many fine examples.

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You're correct about the problem of rightsholders (rights holders?) in that there is always a good reason to clamp down on the property, if it is valuable and can still be exhibited and make a profit

for it's owner. But let's not have any confusion about this: KEEPING A FILM SECURELY UNDER COPYRIGHT CONTROL HAS BEEN THE LARGEST SINGLE REASON FOR THEIR DESTRUCTION. This is because when a film is no longer a money maker or even a potential money maker, it is, especially in the case of the big studios, easy to bury the film on some forgotten shelf or even outright destroy it to regain shelf space, and yet retain the only percieved possible value left; the title and/or story that film had. That's pretty much what happened to the First National silents when Warner Brothers bought them out. Yet, if you find a print of say, "THE CRASH" (28) a Milton Sills railroad story, in your grandfather's cellar, you can't show it or make prints of it legally because WB or whoever owns the brand name now, will stop you. They not only own the rights, it would be in conflict with another film with the same name, a 1933 Ruth Chatterton epic about the San Francisco earthquake.

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And NONE of those films were made to be buried, but to be exhibited and displayed. That was their purpose, that was the heart & soul to each of them. I don't know if 51% of them were a matter of Artistic Achievement and 49% were money-making propositions, or where the proportions were - but to the filmmaker, it was Art Above All, and hopefully, a moneymaker, too. But there were plenty of losing films out there, and one loss didn't stop studios from putting another nickel in the slot again and again and again.

 

They knew that putting out movies would make them money - but they HAD to put them out.

 

Now, rightsholders sit and bury them. It's a shame. That's where Public Domain Laws should rescue these treasures because none of these films were made to be buried.

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  • 2 months later...

Oddly enough Universal UK issued a W.C. Fields box with 17 movies of the Great Man at the end of 2007, which as far as I know it is the only way to get Million Dollar Legs or Mississippi on DVD. Except for English subtitles they just issued the movies...no extras, no specials though.

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  • 1 year later...

In response to factotum, I'm also puzzled by the nearly invisible presence of W.C. Fields these days. When I was a kid in the 1970s, the local station would show his movies anytime a local NFL game was blacked out. Most of my friends liked the Fields movies AT LEAST as much as the missed football games. Maybe the dumbing-down of America has made Fields irrelevant to a generation that is only amused by comedians who use one-syllable words and lots of Star Wars references.

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