W.C. Fields in “The Bank Dick”

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of  W.C. Fields‘ second-to-last starring film from his brilliant late period at Universal: The Bank Dick (1940), directed by Eddie Cline.

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Fields as Egbert Sousé (accent grave over the E) does his damnedest to stall bank examiner Mr. Snoopington (Franklin Pangborn)

One of Fields’ most subversive and hilarious films (undoubtedly because he was old and sick and no longer gave a damn) Fields lays into small town hypocrisies and even (as he would do with even more force in his last film Never Give a Sucker an Even Break) Hollywood itself. Fields gets away with murder in this film, naming his favorite watering hole The Black Pussy, and telling young Og Ogilvy (Grady Sutton) that his name “Sounds like a bubble in a bathtub” — what can he be referring to but a fart? Somehow this stuff got past the censors, as did Fields’ much more dangerous example as a human being — getting the bank examiner (hilariously played by Franklin Pangborn) drunk so he won’t notice the money Fields (the bank’s security guard) embezzled so that he can invest in the Beefsteak Mines. The terrific ensemble includes Shemp Howard (who really sacrificed a decent solo career when he stepped in to bail out the Stooges–see here), Jack Norton and Una Merkel, among many others. A couple of nods to Mack Sennett here too.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy, including the films of W.C. Fields, please see 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

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