“W.C. Fields and Me”…and You


Why did I include “you” in the title of this post? Because W.C. Fields and Me can be considered a sort of bellwether of the true Fields fan. If you care about the actual guy, and what actually happened in his life and career, this movie is not much more than an irritant.

It is based on the popular book by Fields’ mistress Carlotta Monti, which is in a word screwy. Details about Fields’ life, especially the portions that occur prior to his meeting her, are crazily fictitious and mixed up in a way that indicates they are probably derived from Monti’s vague memories of stories told to her by the truth-averse and alcoholic Fields. So much is wrong that it will make any Fields fans yank their own hair out. The film pretends that Fields had no silent film career, that he was fired from the Follies for his ribald material, that he was down and out and broke due to the Great Depression, that his friend, servant and comedy partner Shorty Blanche was a midget (and German), that Shorty came west with him to get into pictures, that they operated a wax museum together, that Fields wanted to be just a screenplay writer, that he didn’t break into shorts with Mack Sennett, etc etc etc.

Rod Steiger’s performance as Fields is at once uncanny and grotesque — one part Rich Little, and one part…well, Rod Steiger. Valerie Perrine does a fine job as the delusional but beautiful Monti. Billy Barty plays the fictitious German midget. Jack Cassidy is one of the highlights of the film as John Barrymore, Allan Arbus is Gregory La Cava, and Paul Stewart (of Citizen Kane) is Flo Ziegfeld. The film is well directed by Arthur Hiller, but the story is fakakta. To be a fan of it is to be a dilettante in the field of Fields, end of story.


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