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  Never Give a Sucker an Even Break Fields DayBuy this film here.
Year: 1941
Director: Edward F. Cline
Stars: W.C. Fields, Gloria Jean, Leon Errol, Billy Lenhart, Kenneth Brown, Margaret Dumont, Susan Miller, Franklin Pangborn, Mona Barrie, Charles Lang, Anne Nagel, Nell O'Day, Irving Bacon, Jody Gilbert, Minerva Urecal, Claud Allister, Irving Berlin
Genre: Comedy
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: W.C. Fields (as himself) is heading for the studio of Esoteric Pictures where he is hoping to sell a script to a movie he wants to star in. On the way, he stops to admire a billboard poster for one of his previous movies, The Bank Dick, and as he does so he is heckled by two boys who were less than impressed with it. To add more indignity, he starts to talk to a young woman only to be knocked off his feet by her husband, then ruins his hat when someone else surprises him. His niece, Gloria Jean (also playing herself), is trying to make it in the movie business too, and who knows, perhaps they could appear together?

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break was historic in its way for being the last ever film that starred W.C. Fields; thanks to ill health he would show up in guest star roles from here till the end of his life a few short years later, but this was his real swan song. And what a farewell it was, one of the most preposterous comedies ever made that suggested even in 1941 that he was not for all tastes, and indeed was one of the first screen comedians to be labelled "cult". To that end, he crafted a film based on his own directions that made no conventional sense, but if you were prepared to go along with its surreal flights of fancy and outright stupidity for the sake of a good laugh, then you would enjoy it quite a bit.

It's as if Fields knew his stretch in the spotlight was coming to an end, and made this one strictly for the fans, as by this point it was those loyal followers who were showing up for his works, the rest of the general public having some time since left him to his own devices as far as his humour went. For this reason, this film is probably not the one to start with if you're new to Fields, and even if you are familiar with him you'll notice he gets an easier ride here than he does in his other movies, with even one character who does nothing but respect him in the shape of Miss Jean, who also took care of the musical numbers that pepper the action (it's difficult to authentically refer to what happens as a story).

If you're being strict, then there are two narratives running here, the first with Fields trying to get his script read to studio head Franklin Pangborn, who if anything is more harrassed than the star here in an obvious dig at the suits. The second is that script itself, shot as if it were a real film except that you can well believe that no company in their right minds would have commissioned it, hence the framing story. In that framing, there is not as much Fields as some aficionados may have hoped, with a long sequence given over to Gloria trilling her way through a few tunes in a studio while almost drowned out by the noise of workmen and rehearsals as Pangborn persuades her to do songs she doesn't like (accompanied by an uncredited Irving Berlin!).

Luckily, the scenes where Fields did not appear still had that lunacy of those where he did, but it's really the last half where the movie within a movie gets going that the ludicrous plotting and insane gags really kick in. Fields finds himself flying over Europe with Gloria, and accidentally drops his bottle of whisky over the side of the aircraft's open air viewing platform (!), whereupon in a panic he jumps after it, catches it, and lands safely thousands of feet below with a bounce on some cushions left by Marx Brothers' foil Margaret Dumont as Mrs Hemoglobin. She is an avowed man-hater who lives on top of a mountain with her daughter (Susan Miller) who has never seen a man before, so Fields starts to take advantage, but then there's the fanged Great Dane and the gorilla to be taken into account... well, you get the idea, this is uniquely farcical. Just wait till you get to the car chase at the end, nothing to do with the rest of the movie, rivalling Bullitt for its energy - and far funnier; this may not be consistent, but it is frequently hilarious. Music by Frank Skinner.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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