And I had a look and all his record covers are so great I felt like sharing them. Learn more about Pigmeat here.
As in that film, the pair play a cantankerous married couple. Here, they somewhat resemble the couple played by Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler in Tugboat Annie, which was released around the same time. When we meet them, though married, Tillie (Skipworth) is running a saloon in China; Gus (Fields) is on trial for murder in Alaska. They get word of an inheritance and reconnoiter in Seattle, then head for the reading of the will in Danville, California. Much comedy is made of the fact that they these two sinners are initially mistaken for Christian missionaries. Some scheming relatives are making out that all that is left of the family estate is a broken down old ferry boat. Tillie is suspicious of the behavior of these people, so she hangs on to the boat, and then they settle who wins the inheritance with a big boat race, in one of those big finales that are so common in Joe E. Brown movies. Baby LeRoy is on hand as an infant relative to torture Fields.
As in The Dentist and The Pharmacist, and many later films, in The Barber Shop Fields plays a hen-pecked small town burger. As in The Pharmacist, his shrewish, vegetarian wife is played by Elise Cavanna (perhaps better known as the long-legged patient lady from The Dentist). He spends a lot of time loafing around gossiping about passers-by,encouraging his son’s corny riddles, flirting with the manicure lady, playing his bass fiddle (he beats it like a drum), and occasionally waiting on a customer. As in The Dentist, his character’s ineptitude results in several sadistic, if hilarious gags. A dog patiently waits for him to cut an ear off a man he’s shaving (it’s been known to happen). An enormous man walks into his new steam room, gets left in too long, and emerges 300 pounds smaller. All through the film, Fields boasts about what he’ll do if he ever catches the escaped bank robber who’s said to be nearby. At the climax to the film, he gets his chance to prove his heroism, when the robber bursts in seeking a make-over at gunpoint. You can guess how that goes. The whole thing ends on a surprisingly risque visual gag about Field’s bass fiddle mating with another one that’s been left there and producing a little of small fiddle pups!
By the time of The Barber Shop, Fields had proved his mettle in talking features in the successful Paramount romp International House, so he was able to move on from shorts. And it was just as well. Sennett would only be producing for another few months anyway, and most of the other studios (except for Columbia) would cease producing them in the mid ’30s, as well.
Tomorrow, to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Vitaphone, Warner Brothers’ revolutionary sound-on-disc system that finally meant the breakthrough of talking pictures, Turner Classic Movies will be showing over four dozen of these early talkies, produced from 1926 through the 1930s. The fun starts at 6am (that’s why I’m telling you about it now) and continues through the wee hours of the next day. In the prime time slot, starting at 8pm, my old pal Ron Hutchinson of the Vitaphone Project will guest host with Ben Mankiewicz, and give us his take on many of these old jewels, which he has been so instrumental in preserving and sharing with the world. Ron was extremely helpful to me in my research for my book No Applause circa 2003, and also took part in our 100th anniversary tribute to the Palace Theatre at the Players Club in 2013.
This was a highly experimental time; in this line-up you will find a surprising diversity of approaches to combining sound and picture. Some, like The Better ‘Ole (1926) starring Sydney Chaplin and Don Juan (1926) with John Barrymore are essentially silents, with a soundtrack of music and special effects. The groundbreaking The Jazz Singer (1927) with Al Jolson is about half “silent”, with only the musical numbers featuring sync sound. Some, like Art Trouble (1934) are straightforward narrative comedy shorts of the sort we associate with Laurel and Hardy or The Three Stooges (Art Trouble happens to star Harry Gribbon, Shemp Howard, Marjorie Main, and a very young Jimmy Stewart). And many of them — probably the bulk of them, given the crudity of the technology in the early days — are just straightforward records of vaudeville acts, the kind of thing Jim Moore and myself paid tribute to with our “Vaudephone” series. Needless to say, I should hope, some of these old Vitaphones are often the best (and sometimes the only) place to see actual vaudevillians do their thing. This is why, for vaudeville fans, this program is not to be missed. Record them all now — watch them at your leisure!
If you aren’t up for 24 hours of film watching (wimp!) here are some special things to watch out for:
And this is only SOME of them! For playing times for the various film, and more information go here. I couldn’t be more excited.