January 15 is the anniversary of the release date of the silent W.C. Fields comedy feature The Potters (1927), directed by Fred C. Newmeyer.
The Potters is one of several lost Fields features and the loss of it is keenly felt. There is a sense in which it is a kind of UR-vehicle for Fields. It is based on a eponymous novel and Broadway play by J.P. McEvoy. The play, starring Donald Meek, ran from 1923 through 1924, the same time as Fields’ Poppy. The following season McEvoy and Fields teamed up together for the Broadway show The Comic Supplement, which was the blueprint for all of Fields’ domestic comedies thereafter, in much the same way as Poppy became the blueprint for all his Mountebankian comedies. There is very little in the Fields canon which can be said to fall outside one of those two categories.
Ironically, two of Fields’ earlier comedy features, It’s the Old Army Game (1926) and So’s Your Old Man (1926) follow the domestic formula established by the earlier McEvoy vehicles. In 1927, Paramount decided to go back to the source. Fields plays a bumbling dad who fancies himself a financial wizard but constantly looses his shirt. Thus the seasoned Fields fan would find the seeds here for later dreams of California orange groves (It’s a Gift) and the Beefsteak Mines (The Bank Dick). Unfortunately, the film didn’t do so well at the box office. There was one more Fields solo silent (Running Wild) and then he was tried in a team with Chester Conklin for three pictures, before the missing ingredient — sound — made a successful film star out of W.C. Fields.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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
To find out more about show business past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
It is sad that four silent W. C. Fields features are unavailable to be seen today. Hopefully (in the spirit of Micawber), “something will turn up”.