September 19 is the anniversary of the release date of W.C. Fields’ very first film Pool Sharks (1915). Most folks don’t know that before he made talkies, Fields had a silent film career — actually two of them. He first made some tentative exploration into the then-considered-risky field of film in 1915-1916, then returned to theatre, then came back to film again in 1925. This film is so early it was made for the American branch of the French studio Gaumont, then one of the international leaders in the movie business.
As the title indicates, Fields based his inaugural movie around the pool routine he had made famous in vaudeville and Broadway revues. Whereas he had used a trick pool table on stage, the film makes use of crude stop motion effects to achieve his trick shots. The film delights for many reasons. It is a rare chance to see a relatively trim and youthful Fields in action. And it’s an eye into his origins. Even casual movie buffs have seen Fields do trick pool routines from his films of the 1930s. It’s a delight to see him doing it 20 years earlier.
To learn more about comedy film history please check out 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 learn about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.