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


Today is the anniversary of the release date of the 1926 W.C. Fields silent comedy feature It’s the Old Army Game, 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. Louise Brooks, in one of her first movie roles, plays his pretty clerk. 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 don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etcchain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


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