June 19 is the anniversary of the release of the classic W.C. Fields comedy Poppy (1936), directed by Eddie Sutherland.
This film is based on the 1923-24 hit Broadway play that had been the true making of Fields’ career. It was with Poppy that Fields introduced the florid-tongued, top-hatted 19th century mountebank, Eustace McGargle, the lovable snake oil salesman, who became a permanent, recurring element of Field’s screen persona. The play (also starring Fields) had been filmed once earlier as Sally of the Sawdust, directed by D.W. Griffith.
When he made the sound film version of Poppy in 1936 Fields was at death’s door; people thought it was his last film. (Fields was suffering from several different conditions, all of them exacerbated by his two quarts of liquor a day habit). Clocking in at one hour 15 minutes, it is vastly shorter than the two hour silent version and the three hour stage version. Apart from a hilarious croquet routine copped from one of his Follies appearances, it cleaves closely to the plot. We get the pleasure of hearing Fields speak many of his hilarious lines from the original show, although there’s no juggling in this one, and a double steps in for most of his long shots. Also in the cast: Rochelle Hudson, Richard Cromwell, Lynne Overman, and Bill Wolfe.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy including W.C. Fields and Poppy don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc.