SO'S YOUR OLD MAN, one of Fields' silent features, is a very difficult film to see these days unless, like me, you get to go to a local theatrical screening at a museum or, in my case, a library. 1 Later remade into the above-average Fields talkie YOU'RE TELLING ME, SO'S YOUR OLD MAN is an amusing comedy without huge belly laughs but with a strong story (for Fields) and enough good moments to satisfy most fans of the "Great Man".
What's most surprising about SO'S YOUR OLD MAN is how effective W. C. Fields could be in a silent comedy, considering a reputation based mostly on that distinctive voice of his and his knack for making the most commonplace words funny and the most uncommonplace words funnier. Yet, even without sound, Fields can carry the film with his facial expressions and body language. As in the sound remake, Fields has a scene where he talks about life, death and other problems with a woman who, unknown to him, is a princess traveling abroad in the U.S. In these scenes, Fields proves what a fine actor he was, helped by a co-star (Alice Joyce) who works extremely well with him. There is little that is funny about this scene, yet it is one of the best in the film (holds true for YOU'RE TELLING ME also).
There are few major comedy scenes, most of the laughs coming from Fields's characterization of a the poorest man in town who has dreams of making it big with his latest invention, the unbreakable windshield. He has some good moments with what would become a stock bit for him - trying to share a bathroom with a large and obnoxious stranger. The major comedy scene, Fields's famous golf sketch, was half dependent on sound (Fields's non-stop talking, the crackling of paper, etc.) and so cannot be completely effective in silence, and better versions would appear in the short film The Golf Specialist and, of course, YOU'RE TELLING ME. There are too many distracting cutaways in this version too, yet it still registers many solid laughs when it gets going, especially when bits of sticky paper used to wrap a pie wind up getting stuck to his club, his fingers and even his mouth. In short, it is a good version of the great sketch, but the better versions were done in sound films.
YOU'RE TELLING ME is the more preferable and enjoyable version of this story, especially in the early scenes. The silent version doesn't feature Fields coming home drunk and getting tangled up in the decorative ropes on the curtains that adorn the living room passageway. In the silent version, he is perfectly sober and merely gets his neck stuck in one of the loops of the rope for a second or two. However, there are some scenes that I prefer in the silent version. When it is suggested that a pet is a good gift to soothe an angry wife, Fields buys a pony in the silent version, an animal that has more personality than the ostrich in the sound remake - although an ostrich is intrinsically a funnier animal. Overall, though, the later film parallels the silent version to a high degree, including the best exchange in the story, done with intertitles in the silent version, of course:
"You're the luckiest woman in
"Is my husband dead?"
And if your wondering what the significance of the movie's title is, well, Fields says the line "So's Your Old Man!" twice, but really... you expect a Fields film title to have significance? ½ - JBNOTE: (1) I had the great fortune of being able to see this film at the Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center on June 8, 2010, as part of a month long Fields exhibition. The amazing Ben Model of the Silent Clown Film Series performed for a solid hour and a half on the piano to accompany this film plus the short Pool Sharks. Even when a technical snafu delayed the feature after the short for five minutes, Mr. Model just kept right on playing - bravo! Dr. Harriet Fields, granddaughter of W.C. Fields, introduced the film and graciously took questions from the audience after, along with Ben Model and film historian Steve Massa. Meeting these people (though I had met Ben Model once before long ago) along with meeting and reconnecting with other classic movie and W.C. Fields fans made a great afternoon even better. I also had the opportunity to meet and chat with Harriet Fields- wonderful lady who is obviously proud of her Fieldsian heritage.