November 30 is the anniversary of the release date of the W.C. Fields comedy It’s a Gift (1934), which is today one of the best known and loved films from Fields’s Paramount period. Based on several stage sketches from Field’s Broadway years (strung together into a slim modicum of a plot), the film casts him as Harold Bissonette, a long-suffering husband, father and grocer who decides to pull up stakes and start a California orange grove.
Many of the film’s most famous scenes revolve around the theme of Fields the Martyr. In one, he (unsuccessfully) tries to prevent the blind man Mr. Muckle (Charles Sellon) from destroying his shop. In another he tries to sleep on his back porch and is constantly being awakened and interrupted,a bit he’d also used in the silent It’s the Old Army Game. Of course Baby LeRoy is present to add to his torture, as is Kathleen Howard, playing one of a long line of Fields’s shrewish wives. T. Roy Barnes plays the insurance agent who tortures him by seeking a man named “Carl La Fong”. It was the first film of Jean Rouvenol (Mildred) who went to play a smaller part in Fields’ Mississippi. Norman McLeod directed.
For more on classic comedies, including those of W.C. Fields, please see my book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,