Cheers (1940)
With W.C. Fields, Grady Sutton, Franklin Pangborn, Cora Witherspoon, Una Merkel, Evelyn del Rio
Directed by Edward Cline
Black and White
Reviewed by JL and JB

      One of W.C. Fields's most familiar plotlines was that of the beleaguered husband who comes out on top in the end.  For me, THE BANK DICK is not only his most successful rendition of the tale, it is also his greatest and funniest film.  IT'S A GIFT (1934), the other candidate for Fields's best film and another one in the same plot category, is surprisingly poignant and has one foot firmly grounded in reality.  Not to its detriment, of course; in fact, the approach to the material is one of IT'S A GIFT's strengths.  THE BANK DICK, on the other hand, is pure loopy farce, as well as Fields at his most self-indulgent (which is always a good thing).  It's 73 minutes of pure genius, detective disguises and all. - JL

     In most of Fields' films, his characters have some goal, even if it is something as small as getting off work early to see a wrestling match.  But Egbert Sousé ("accent grah-ve over the 'e'") is a man with zero ambition in life beyond drinking, smoking and reading "those infernal detective magazines".  He wanders through town mumbling and yammering about anything and everything with anybody and everybody.  His days are so wide open, he can stop in the middle of one to help fix a car, direct a few scenes from a movie, teach some kids how to smoke, unwittingly stop a bank robbery and still find time to head over to the local bar and hoist a few cold ones. He carries himself as if he were the most impressive person in the world, and is blissfully unaware of the truth - nobody in town thinks he's worth a damn, with the exception of one hard-up film director.  Sousé doesn't ask for us to root for him, but because of his own self-confidence, taking on any problem, small or large, that comes his way, we root for him anyway.

     THE BANK DICK is funny not just because Fields is at his purest, no sentiment and no real plot to carry, but also because Fields the filmmaker was not afraid to surround himself with a cast  nearly as hilarious as himself.  Everybody gets their little moment to shine, but it is unheralded character actor Russell Hicks (as flim-flam man J. Frothingham Waterbury) who nearly steals the film right from under the master, going toe to toe with Fields in a verbal pas de deux at the Black Pussy Café that has always been the film's highlight for me. THE BANK DICK is as personal a comedy as anything Woody Allen ever made, and some might even say, in a Fields' voice, "It's better than GONE WITH THE WIND!".   - JB

W. C. Fields     The Age of Comedy


"Could we pull the shades?"
"You can pull anything you want in here, it's a regular joint."


Determined to make the film he wanted to make, Fields (who wrote the script and ad-libbed much of his part) had to argue with the director, the studio and the Hollywood censors on many gags and lines.  Judging from the final film, he got most of what he wished for, including keeping the notorious name of the film's tavern, The Black Pussy Café.