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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY (1934)

Falling just below IT’S A GIFT/’34 and MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE/’35, this period comedy captures more of the W. C. Fields comic iconography than anything else he did @ Paramount. Playing actor/manager to a traveling group of third-rate players, Fields delivers a banquet of bad behavior, rising to every opportunity for humbug pomposity, cowardly bullying & petty swindling, whether it’s skipping out on a bill, stroking the vanity of a local amateur gargoyle or kicking Baby LeRoy in the backside. (No editing for this two-year-old trooper, but a real kick in the pants.) The film finishes off with a tab version of the old melodrama THE DRUNKARD, played & staged more-or-less straight to hilarious result. Then, a priceless encore: the Fields foundation myth, his own performing Magna Carta in an abridgement of the juggling act that carried him around the world as a young man, including the 'floating' cigar box finish, still an astonishment. And filmed just in the nick of time, barely a year before Fields faced a significant decline in his health. The director, William Beaudine, became a dreadful hack, but he also helmed two of Mary Pickford’s best late silents (LITTLE ANNIE ROONEY/’25 and the superb SPARROWS/’26). Hey, someone got Fields & Baby LeRoy to work together.

DOUBLE-BILL/SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: As the villain in THE DRUNKARD, Fields not only sports a fine elaboration of the silly mustaches he once wore on stage & screen, but also includes the immortal line from THE FATAL GLASS OF BEER/’33, ‘It ain’t a fit night out for man or beast.’ Then gets hit in the puss with a handful of hopelessly fake stage snow flakes.

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