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Sunday, October 6, 2013

MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE (1935)

Pricelessly, even painfully funny W. C. Fields comedy finds the great man living in a kind of domestic chamber–of-horrors with a shrewish second wife, a couple of appalling in-laws and a loyal, good-hearted daughter. Life is just one comic gem of frustration after another as Fields confronts tipsy burglars in his basement; collects four traffic tickets in six minutes; loses his job by taking his first afternoon off in 29 years; and generally lives the Life of Job . . . in a neat seven reels. Ionesco and Beckett had nothing on Fields when it comes to the absurdity of modern life . . . but could they juggle cigar boxes?* Everyone gets to be mean & hilarious in this one, with ripe theatrical turns played straight to the gallery. (Grady Sutton is a particular tower of asinine behavior.) Clyde Bruckman, more of a gag man (with Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy and Harold Lloyd on his C.V.) than a director, uses homely proscenium set-ups that tap into a theatrical energy, so there’s always some forward movement whatever the pace. Look for Fields’ long-time mistress, Carla Monti, doing quite nicely as his understanding secretary. It’s a real part, too, with a chance to shine on a few tongue-twisting lines explaining what really went on when Fields went AWOL.

DOUBLE-BILL: Field’s silent version of this one, RUNNING WILD/’27 (not seen here), has a so-so rep, but it’s director was the great comedy director, Gregory La Cava, of STAGE DOOR/’37 and MY MAN GODFREY/’36 fame. Apparently, it uses the same basic set-up but charts a very different narrative. No DVD, yet, but adventurous types might want to try the subfusc dub on YOUTUBE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVW_lhu3ltk

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Considering that Fields juggled his way around the major theaters of the world, his films rarely caught him ‘in the act.’ But there’s a pretty complete record of his Cigar Box routine in THE OLD FASHIONED WAY/’34.

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