W.C. Fields & Co. in “Tillie and Gus”
Today marks the anniversary of the release date of the W.C. Fields comedy Tillie and Gus (1933). This was his second team-up with worthy foil Alison Skipworth, whom he had paired up with onscreen in If I Had a Million the previous year.
As in that film, the pair play a cantankerous married couple. Here, they somewhat resemble the couple played by Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler in Tugboat Annie, which was released around the same time. When we meet them, though married, Tillie (Skipworth) is running a saloon in China; Gus (Fields) is on trial for murder in Alaska. They get word of an inheritance and reconnoiter in Seattle, then head for the reading of the will in Danville, California. Much comedy is made of the fact that they these two sinners are initially mistaken for Christian missionaries. Some scheming relatives are making out that all that is left of the family estate is a broken down old ferry boat. Tillie is suspicious of the behavior of these people, so she hangs on to the boat, and then they settle who wins the inheritance with a big boat race, in one of those big finales that are so common in Joe E. Brown movies. Baby LeRoy is on hand as an infant relative to torture Fields.
For more on 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 find out 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.