W.C. Fields in “The Old Fashioned Way”
This is one of the best movies ever, not only for fans of Fields, but for lovers of vaudeville, trouping and old-time melodrama. Fields plays the Great McGonnigle, leader of a traveling 19th century theatre troupe, always one step ahead of the sheriff. As he almost invariably does in his pictures, Fields plays a widower with a daughter (Judith Allen). In this one he romances a local rich widow (Jan Duggan) and gives her a part in his production of The Drunkard and also gives a part to rich young man (Joe Morrison) who is in love with his daughter, thus simultaneously alienating the local sheriff (slated to marry the widow) and the rich boy’s powerful father. Baby Leroy is the widow’s toddler; the film contains several famous, oft-excerpted scenes of him torturing Fields.
There are also a couple of straight musical numbers, which is unusual in a Fields film. Half the movie is given over to the production of The Drunkard followed by rare scenes of Fields re-creating his vaudeville juggling act, making this film doubly invaluable.
In the end, McGonnigle’s tour is cancelled and he pretends to have gotten an offer from New York, so his daughter is able to marry her beau. In a brief epilogue Field is seen hawking patent medicine in the street.
And now, vaudeville lovers, the big juggling scene!
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 Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc. For more on show biz history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.