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It's the Old Army Game (1926)

Passed  -  Adventure | Comedy | Romance  -  11 July 1926 (USA)
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Druggist Elmer Prettywillie is sleeping. A woman rings the night bell only to buy a two-cent stamp. Then garbage collectors waken him. Next it's firemen on a false alarm. And then a real fire.


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Complete credited cast:
Elmer Prettywillie
Mildred Marshall
Blanche Ring ...
Tessie Overholt
William Gaxton ...
George Parker
Mary Foy ...
Sarah Pancoast
Mickey Bennett ...
Society Bather
Jack Luden ...
Society Bather
George Currie ...


Elmer Pettywillie is the owner of a small drug store in Florida, and Mildred Marshall is his clerk. Business is slow until George Delevan leases space in the store to sell New York real estate. Business is good, especially for George, but the sheriff comes looking for him and he departs the premises for places unknown. Elmer feels that he has been an unknowing accomplice in a con-game, and he heads for New York in his old Ford. But he heads in the wrong direction, gets lost a few times, gives up and starts back to his drugstore. Many townsmen are rushing toward him as he drives up the street, but they are running to congratulate him as George as returned bearing profits for all the local investors. All is well, other than Elmer ending up as a very reluctant fourth-party in a double-wedding ceremony. Written by Les Adams <>

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Release Date:

11 July 1926 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Old Army Game  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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George Parker: [title card] I'd like to put my real estate display in your window. I'm president of the High-and-Dry Realty Company - I want to use your window for a display.
Mildred Marshall: [title card] It might help our business, too.
See more »


Featured in W.C. Fields: Straight Up (1986) See more »

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User Reviews

W.C. Fields, Lost and Found
22 December 2005 | by (Arlington, Virginia, USA) – See all my reviews

In his 1967 book "The Art of W.C. Fields," film historian William K. Everson bemoaned the apparent loss of much of Fields' early movie work. In a chapter devoted to eight silent films that Fields made for Paramount from 1926 to 1928, Everson wrote: "Of those eight features, not one is known to have survived." Stills from most of those films decorate Everson's book; they stare out from the pages as ghostly reminders of films believed gone for good.

That was then; since Everson's book was published, copies of three of those missing features have turned up: "So's Your Old Man," "Running Wild" - and "It's the Old Army Game." (The one film in the group of eight that film historians would really like to get their hands on is "That Royle Girl," which was the second feature Fields did with D.W. Griffith, the first being "Sally of the Sawdust.")

I got to see "Army Game" at the AFI Silver in Silver Spring, Maryland. As funny as the film was - and it was very funny - the experience of seeing it on the big screen was also surprisingly poignant, given its formerly lost status. Relying on contemporary reviews, Everson speculated that Fields' silent Paramount features, which were all produced by the company's New York studio, were done on the cheap and probably suffered from a "cramped 'East Coast look.'" As it turns out, "Army Game" is a very handsomely mounted production, and includes location filming in Florida and New York City (it was fairly amazing to see scenes of midtown Manhattan in 1926 and notice how much of it - the buildings, mainly - has barely changed in nearly eight decades). "Army Game" is so well produced, it was sad to think that, like Clementine, it was once thought "lost and gone forever."

Partly remade as "The Pharmacist" in 1933 and "It's a Gift" in 1934, "Army Game" stars Fields as Elmer Prettywillie, a small town druggist who suffers various indignities at the hands of his relatives (no wife here, but there is an obnoxious sister and her nephew), customers and neighbors. Can a silent Fields be as funny as the talking one we're all familiar with? This film says definitely. Of course, we all know what Fields sounded like, so this can simply be a case of filling in his voice with our imaginations. But our imaginations don't stop there. In one scene, when Fields is trying to sleep on a porch swing and a baby girl (who, I'm convinced, was played by an adult female midget) stands nearby and bawls, I could hear her crying rattling in my brain.

But perhaps we do miss Fields' voice, after all. One minor complaint I have about "Army Game" is that Fields' character seems to keep changing on us. In one scene, he's a milquetoast who can't bring himself to charge an overbearing woman for the two cents' worth of postage she's purchased; in another, he comes perilously close to maliciously dropping the above-mentioned baby off a balcony; in another, he's a sharpie who out-hustles a would-be hustler; in another, he's a buffoon who doesn't know the meaning of a "no trespassing" sign and calls a grandfather clock a "watch." I'm not saying a film character can't show different sides or can never surprise us with some hidden trait or ability, but Elmer Prettywillie seems to be suffering from multiple personality disorder. Had Fields been able to use his voice in this film, he might have brought all these seemingly disparate threads together, as he probably did in "It's a Gift" (which I don't remember well, it's been about 30 years since I've seen it - yipe!). "Army Game" also has an extraneous romantic subplot involving drugstore employee Louise Brooks and handsome con artist William Gaxton that threatens to split off into its own film.

This was the first time I'd seen Louise Brooks in a movie, and all I can say at first blush is: Wow. As Prettywillie's young assistant, Brooks positively radiates from the screen without even trying. OK, she does try in one scene: clad in a swimsuit, leaning against a tree, head tilted back, eyes closed and trying to look heartbroken, Brooks is so obviously posing (or being posed) for the camera, it's hard not to snicker. But she does it *so* well. (The director was Edward Sutherland, who married Brooks around the time this film was made; their marriage lasted all of about two years.)

In his Fields book, Everson said "Army Game" was "not remembered with any great enthusiasm" by Brooks. In her own book, "Lulu in Hollywood," Brooks, recalling her work with Gaxton, says with acerbic candor that she knew then that "our parts as the 'love interest' in a Fields comedy meant nothing." Did Brooks ever get to see "Army Game"? It's doubtful. In her 1982 book, published three years before her death, Brooks said she hadn't seen it. It's a shame - not only did she miss out on a truly funny W.C. Fields vehicle, she also missed out on seeing a delightful young actress with a pageboy-style haircut who lit up the screen every time she appeared. (Dear AFI: Could you schedule a screening of "Pandora's Box" real soon, please?)

A couple of footnotes: AFI's presentation of "Army Game" featured excellent live organ accompaniment by Ray Brubacher. Also, the film, when I saw it, ran about 90 minutes, considerably longer than the running time listed by IMDb - I suspect AFI ran the film as close to "natural speed" as possible, which was a definite plus in terms of presentation.

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