Thursday, 25 August 2011

1,001 Films: "It's a Gift" (1934)

The W.C. Fields vehicle It's a Gift dates from a period when the movies were still trying to figure out how best to assimilate the nation's favourite comic talents. Fields was a veteran by this stage, and though there's something in the background here about orange groves that vaguely resembles a plot, the film remains, in the main, a record of long-established routines. A sequence in which Fields' henpecked Harold Bissonette ("pronounced Biss-on-ay") blusters around his grocery store does as much as anything anywhere to restore the word "kumquat" to comic circulation; the fabled porch bit, played out on one of the more notable and elaborate movie sets of the period, sets the lead squarely in the middle of things, leaving him at risk of attack from all angles - though it's perhaps inevitable that Harold should finally bring about his own downfall.

I must confess to finding the whole a little too lackadaisical for my own tastes; the idea of a hero who just wants some time and space of his own seems to derive chiefly from the whims of an intransigent performer who'd rather drag his heels than have to interact with anybody else on screen, or put too much effort into finding a narrative throughline to work with. Still, the better gags - the world's messiest picnic, the store closed owing to molasses - remain worthy of anybody's laughter, and it earns extra points for bucking a then-emerging trend, by making every animal and child that crosses the frame eminently kickable.

It's a Gift is available on DVD as part of Universal's W.C. Fields Collection boxset.

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