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Tillie and Augustus Winterbottom are thought to be missionaries when they arrive to find Phineas Pratt trying cheat the Sheridans out of her father's inheritance, including a ferry franchise and a boat. The only way to keep the franchise is to win a race against Pratt's boat. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Before the steamboat race, one of the boats used in the filming began to sink. The crew frantically tried to bail, but water was coming in as fast as they could bail it out. The fire department was called, and set their pumps to work until 1 AM, to no avail; the water was still rushing in. Director Francis Martin called the man who built the boat, who stated that it could not spring a leak. Martin ordered the man to come down to the set and see for himself. Seeing the boat list to one side, the builder repeated that it could not spring a leak. The following conversation is reported to have taken place, at that point: Francis Martin: "All I know is we've been pumping water out of her hold for nine hours and it comes in as fast as we pump it out." Builder: "She ain't got a hold." Francis Martin: "I don't care what the technical term is, all I know is we've been pumping water out of her interior for nine hours." Builder: "She ain't got an interior any more than a raft. She's flat on the bottom, sitting on drums. You've got all that heavy stuff on one side and that's what makes it lean over. You've been bailing Malibu Lake into Malibu Lake for nine hours." See more »
TILLIE AND GUS (Paramount, 1933), directed by Francis Martin, stars W.C. Fields and Alison Skipworth, in their second collaboration together following their hilarious "roadhog" segment from the episodic motion picture, IF I HAD A MILLION (1932). With Fields and Skipworth as Paramount's answer to MGM's own Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler, of MIN AND BILL (1930) and TUGBOAT ANNIE (1933) fame, the plot for TILLIE AND GUS could very well be Paramount's equivalent to TUGBOAT ANNIE (1933), however, the only difference is that there's no need in borrowing from MGM or calling this one TUGBOAT TILLIE, for example, considering how Paramount has Fields and Skipworth at the helm is all that's needed in keeping this 58 minute comedy afloat.
The story begins not with Tillie and Gus but with the introduction of a young married couple, Tom (Clifford Jones) and Mary Sheridan (Jacqueline Wells), along with their baby boy called "King" (Baby LeRoy) and their very smart pet duck, taking up residence in the town of Danbury. After the reading of the will by Mary's father, John Blake, who died bankrupt, Phineas Platt (Clarence Wilson), a family lawyer and a crooked one at that, loots the estate for himself, leaving the girl nothing but an old ferry boat, forcing Tom, a college student, from obtaining his engineering degree. Mary, who has notified her Aunt Tillie and Uncle Gus, working their separate ways as missionaries, of the situation, hopes they'll come over to guide them. Enter Augustus Q. Winterbottom (W.C. Fields), revealed not as a missionary as depicted, but a professional card sharp forced to leave Alaska by a judge (Edgar Kennedy) following a crooked game; and Tillie Winterbottom (Alison Skipworth), his ex-wife, owner of a Soo Chow Club in Shanghai, China, who, after received Mary's telegram, gambles away her place to the Swede (Ivan Linow), earning enough money to book passage to Danville. Once they meet at a train station in Seattle, where Gus addresses Tillie as "My Little Chickadee" (Fields' most famous catch phrase), the couple soon forget their differences, offering their assistance to the young couple by arranging a ferry boat race between the defunct Fairy Queen and Pratt's very own Keystone to the Old Town dock that's to take place on the 4th of July, with amusing results.
For Fields' first starring feature role since the silent era of 1928, TILLIE AND GUS offers great promise with fine comedy material (Fields and Skipworth as dedicated missionaries shown in their true surroundings; W.C. cheating suckers at cards and his mixing of paint while listening to the instructor on radio), offbeat one-liners (Tillie: "Do you like children?" Gus: "I do if they're properly cooked"), and a touch of suspense (Baby LeRoy in a mini-bathtub that falls off the deck and floating down the river), there's not enough to rank this the comedy classic as Fields' latter IT'S A GIFT (1934) and THE BANK DICK (1940). In some ways, it's a quiet comedy in the Will Rogers tradition, highlighted by both the steamboat race and the support of familiar faces as Edgar Kennedy, George Barbier, Barton MacLane, and of course Clarence Wilson, whose face is enough to frighten any child away from his property whenever ordering them to "scoot." Baby LeRoy, the year-old infant whose dialog consists of overdubbed baby noises, cries and laughter, makes one of Fields' better known advisories under the age of five.
Never distributed on video cassette, TILLIE AND GUS was one of the features presented on Turner Classic Movies in June 2001 with W.C. Fields as its "Star of the Month," before being placed to DVD a few years later. Although Fields and Skippy would be paired once more in SIX OF A KIND (1934), who else can play phony missionaries and he singing "Bringing in the Sheeves" as their lovable characters of Tillie and Gus? (**1/2)
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