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At a Florida hotel, absconding miscreant J. Effingham Bellweather goes slapstick golfing with the house detective's flirtatious wife and an incompetent caddy. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
THE GOLF SPECIALIST (RKO Radio, 1930), directed by Monte Brice, stars comedian W.C. Fields in his first sound comedy, a comic supplement of one of his famous vaudeville routines. Fields, whose career consisted that as a headliner of "The Ziegfeld Follies," with his juggling routine as one of his trademarks, failed to equal the popularity of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton as opposed to silent film comedians. For THE GOLF SPECIALIST, a 20 minute short, it was evident that what Fields needed was sound to put over his routines, but his newfound success in feature length comedies was only a few short years away.
The plot for THE GOLF SPECIALIST isn't much, actually. Divided into two parts, the introduction, set at a Florida resort, opens in the lobby where a flirtatious blonde (Shirley Grey) gets a man in trouble with a house detective (John Dunsmuir), who happens to be her husband. After the jealous detective twists man into a pretzel, wheeling him out of the lobby, J. Eppington Bellweather (W.C. Fields), another guest, enters the scene. Before making the acquaintance with the blonde, there's a tough looking thug looking to give him a "knuckle massage," and a screechy voiced little girl (Naomi Casey, age 5) trying to panhandle money out of him. Attracted to the blonde, Bellweather invites her out for a game of golf. The second half of the story finds Bellweather, blonde and caddy out in the golf course where the golf specialist, who repeatedly tells the girl to "keep your eye on the ball," to meet with many distractions, ranging from caddy's squeaking shoes to various passersby preventing him from ever hitting the ball out into the green before the unexpected occurs.
Of all the comic supplements, the golf game ranks one of Fields' most famous. Performed on stage, later in the silent comedy, SO'S YOUR OLD MAN (Paramount, 1926), and again for the concluding moments of YOU'RE TELLING ME (Paramount, 1934), THE GOLF SPECIALIST simply gives indication of how the act was performed on stage. As with most early talkies, the film is quite primitive in appearance with echoing voices, cardboard backdrop in place of actual outdoor surroundings, and lack of background music with the exception of during the opening credits. Whatever the film lacks, it makes up for it with its star attraction, W.C. Fields, whose name is the only one listed in the cast. It's also interesting getting a glimpse of a younger and thinner Fields, with clip on mustache, cigarette and straw hat as opposed to a older, heavier, cigar smoking con man minus mustache that would become the better known Fields' character trait. In THE GOLF SPECIALIST, little is known of his character with the exception of a wanted poster listing him for petty crimes as passing as the Prince of Wales, eating spaghetti in public, spitting in the Gulf Stream, failing to pay installments on a straitjacket, but nothing quite evident from his introduction as con man and golf specialist in that order.
Unseen for many years, THE GOLF SPECIALIST turned up on New York City's public television station's "Laugh Night" (WNET, Channel 13) in May of 1973 as part of an evening devoted to comedy shorts consisting of THE BLACKSMITH (1920) with Buster Keaton; Charlie Chaplin's THE CURE (1917); Harold Lloyd in HIS ROYAL SLYNESS (1919); Saturday AFTERNOON (1922) with Harry Langdon; Pearl White in AERIAL WIRE (1919); Dell Henderson in COMRADES (1911), and finally THE GOLF SPECIALIST. With the exception of the Keaton and Chaplin shorts, there were no known rebroadcasts of the others presented that night. A decade later, however, THE GOLF SPECIALIST turned up on home video along with other Fields short subjects being THE DENTIST (1932) and THE FATAL GLASS OF BEER (1933) as companion pieces, many public domain titles from various distributors of poor quality visuals that gives the impression of THE GOLF SPECIALIST being much older than its actual release date. Only The Criterion Collection VHS edition has turned up with excellent quality prints to its full collection of Fields' comedy shorts. Still rarely shown, THE GOLF SPECIALIST was one that turned up sparingly in between features of American Movie Classics (in the 1990s) and Turner Classic Movies (post 2001).
While Fields' devotees would be categorize THE GOLF SPECIALIST as a good comedy with full quota of laughs (myself included), others might find this tee off simply in the rough. Fore!!! (***).
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