W.C. Fields, Louise Brooks & Co. in “It’s the Old Army Game”

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W.C. Fields’ sixth film (and his second starring feature) was the silent comedy It’s the Old Army Game (1926), directed by Eddie Sutherland. 

The title for this film is misleading; the movie has zilch to do with the army. The phrase is part of Fields’ shell game patter, meant to reassure you that it’s okay to participate in what anyone who’s not a rube knows is a rigged con game.

It’s the Old Army Game is one of Fields’ most interesting silents to watch. Much of it was derived from sketch material Fields had devised for the 1925 revue The Comic Supplement, and later wound up using in his 1934 talkie It’s a Gift. (Such as the “trying to sleep on the noisy porch” routine). Fields plays small town druggist Elmer Prettywillie; the titles in the film amusingly mirror his now famous verbose speaking style.

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Flapper Louise Brooks, with whom Fields had appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies several years before, plays his pretty clerk here in one of her first movie roles. (She would wind up marrying director Eddie Sutherland). Also in the film: Blanche Ring, William Gaxton and Mary Foy (NOT one of the famous vaudeville Foy family). Critics were unkind to the film at the time, already accusing Fields of recycling material at this early stage. Today it is something of an indispensable curiosity.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy, including W.C. Fields films like “It’s the Old Army Game”, don’t miss my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,

 

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