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As was my habit as a teenager, I often would stay up late at night watching
old movies (which were just about the only things broadcast after midnight
back then). One night, I turned on the tube and a W. C. Fields movie had
just started. It wasn't long before I found myself laughing. My father,
for some reason unable to sleep, got up to join me. Soon he was laughing
out loud too, and he wasn't one who laughed at just anything. When the
scene came in which Fields tries to take a little nap alfresco--both of us
began laughing uncontrollably. If someone could have seen us through a
sound proof window, I'm sure they would have thought we were having
seizures. NO scene in ANY of the great comedies exceeds this one in
hilarity, and few even approach it. Not the seduction/dance scene in "Some
Like It Hot," not the hitchhiking, not the "piggy-back" scenes from "It
Happened One Night," not the "water-in-the-face" scene in "City Lights"--no
scene from "Tootsie," no scene from "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek," not any
of the zany scenes from "The Court Jester," or "A Night At The Opera"--none
of these beat Fields' pitiful attempt at catching a little shut-eye. And
this is just one sequence in a film filled with wet-your-pants
W. C. Fields was one of the screen's greatest comedians. His bumbling, surly, dipsomaniac is a creation right up there with Chaplin's Little Tramp. As a gift from the gods of comedy, Fields was given an APPEARANCE of a bungler, but he was, in fact, physically adroit to a level most athletes could only dream of. Thus, he could get away with doing things SO bungling--like accidentally putting his hat on his walking stick (resting on his shoulder) instead of his head, and then not be able to find it, or trying to walk out the wrong side of the door--that if someone else tried them, they'd only look ridiculous. Fields makes you think these things could actually, comically, happen. He was truly a comedic genius.
One of cinema's greatest comedians, in one of cinema's funniest films: Do yourself a favor--wear a diaper and SEE THIS MOVIE!
If you can spell Carl LaFong, you can spell laugh....that's capital "L', small "a", small "u", small "g", small "h"!!! And Carl LaFong is only one of many bits that will have you weeping with laughter. This is, without a doubt, the best of Fields and it is more than 70 years old!! Watch some of the old comedies of the early 30's and be bored to death; very few stand the test of time as this one does. The story is simple - man inherits money, buys his dream, the dream turns bad, and then turns good, end of story. Fields' movies don't need much story; only something to frame his talents and the talents of his supporting players who are all spot-on in this film. The picnic scene will have you rolling in the aisles (or off the couch), the aforementioned Carl LaFong scene (in fact, the whole porch scene) and "Sit down, Mr. Muckle,honey" is a riot. Almost every set piece in "It's a Gift" will evoke laughter and as usual, the names of the characters are pure Fields madness. I give this classic a 10 and recommend it to all those comedy buffs who think that all humor has to have sexual or political content to succeed.
"It's a Gift" is one of Fields' best! Though W.C Fields is rarely thought of as a physical comedian, his performance is as graceful and athletic as you're likely to see. Sharp, biting dialogue and timeless comedic elements (like the universally recognized nagging wife, pesky kids, delivery people, and, [horrors] even the "visually impaired") get the Fields treatment. Like most of Fields' work "It's a Gift" centers, not on the drinking that would become his caricature (though he does "tip a few" in the film), but on the "little guy." Fields is once again in the familiar role of "down-trodden little man" just trying to make it in an increasingly crazy and, sometimes, cruel world. "It's a Gift" is wonderful theatre; brilliantly executed by one of America's comic masters.
I'm not going to repeat the story here. The story line is serviceable, but
not as important as the situations and the set pieces. Mundane things like
light bulbs and back porches become magical in this movie, though exactly
what kind of magic is open to debate.
But I will say that this is the best of W.C. Fields's films, and that's saying something (though I do like "Million Dollar Legs" an awful lot). And I'd put "It's a Gift" in the Top 10 list of the best sound comedies ever made, and maybe in the Top 5.
The production is about as tacky as Golden Age Paramount was capable of. Compared to the Marx Brother's "Duck Soup" which was made in the same place at almost the same time, it looks like home movies.
But "It's a Gift" is every bit as funny as "Duck Soup," if not more so, and has aged less than Paramount's high-style comedies with MacDonald and Chevalier (which are still wonderful but require more of an effort from modern audiences).
Whether you plug into Fields's comedy as a painful commentary on the human condition, or if you just want some belly laughs with no strings attached , this is the film to watch. And if it's the first time you're seeing it, I envy you.
And best regards from Carl LaFong.
As close to a perfect film as have ever been made. Running a fat free 62 minutes, not a second is wasted. Several of the ten minute scenes were released by Castle films as mini-masterpieces. Each of them can stand alone but are greater as part of the whole. W.C. Fields wrote one of his funniest, and easily most sympathetic role as the loving husband and father who dreams of escaping his life as a Eastern shopkeeper and traveling to sunny California where he can own an orange grove. He wrote wonderful supporting roles including the blind man, Mr. Muckle, and the irritating man looking for Carl LaFong. He stoicly suffers the barbs of his wife, the indifference of his children, the incompetence of his hired help and the wrath of his customers. When he reaches California and when his dreams appeared dashed, he triumphs at last. The everyman rewarded after suffering the slings and errors of outrageous fortune. It belongs with Homer, with Shakespeare, with Mark Twain. It is perfection.
IT'S A GIFT is generally cited as W.C. Fields' best comedy. For me, it is a
nonstop funfest. Unlike some comedies which think they need to have love
interest to be popular, Fields makes us laught at him for 73 minutes
non-stop. A true genius. This work is not typical of its time, however. In a
time when most film comedies were either witty romantic, Lubitsch-esque
films, or wild madcap Marx Bros.-style films, IT'S A GIFT stands alone as a
piece of physical sight-gag humor. However, there are no impossible
sight-gags, little actual slapstick, but enough laughs for five films. This
goes on par with DUCK SOUP, TROUBLE IN PARADISE, MODERN TIMES, and A NIGHT
AT THE OPERA as one of the finest comedy films of all time.
Interestingly enough, IT'S A GIFT was recently voted to be one of the top 100 funniest films ever made by the American Film Institute. However, a film like this doesn't need any awards to prove its greatness. Regardless of the critics, IT'S A GIFT will surely remain a genuine masterpiece of cinema and of W.C. Fields in particular.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
**Possible Spoilers** In a number of films, W. C. Fields played a variation
on the theme of the hen-pecked husband, but it all came together to
perfection in `It's A Gift,' an hilarious comedy directed by Norman Z.
McLeod. Harold Bissonette (Fields) owns a small grocery store, has an
overbearing wife, Amelia (Kathleen Howard), a daughter, Mildred (Jean
Rouverol), who is in love, a son, Norman (Tommy Bupp), with a penchant for
leaving roller skates in the wrong places, and aspirations to a better life
that includes wealth, leisure, respect and gin (not necessarily in that
order). He has his eye on an orange grove in sunny, Southern California,
complete with a house, that he's seen a picture of in a magazine. When
`Uncle Bean' passes away, Harold parlays a modest inheritance into the
purchase price, and the pursuit of the dream becomes a reality, much to the
chagrin of Amelia, who thinks he's a fool. And lets him know about it in no
uncertain terms. A cross country foray to the promised land with the entire
family follows, and when they finally arrive in California, they find the
house in disrepair and nary an orange to be seen; at least not in their
grove. Harold refuses to give up, of course, and with a little luck, and
some shrewd bargaining with a land developer in need of a parking lot, by
the end he's living his dream.
The humor in this film is vibrant and punctuated throughout by the
inimitable Fields, with his trademark delivery, body language and, of
course, the `proboscis,' that have made him an icon of Americana. There's
one uproarious scene after another, especially one in which Harold tries to
take a nap on the porch while contending with noisy neighbors upstairs and
down, an ice pick wielding child, and an insurance salesman (T. Roy Barnes)
looking for a man named LaFong: `LaFong, Carl LaFong. Capital L' small
a,' capital F' small o' small n' small g.' LaFong!' he says. `I
don't know LaFong,' Harold replies, `And if I did, I wouldn't tell you!'
Another memorable scene takes place in the store, and involves the blind Mr.
Muckle (Charles Sellon), who has an encounter with a display of light bulbs,
and a young lad who discovers the tap on a vat of molasses; all of which
produces the anticipated results.
With a supporting cast that includes Julian Madison (John, Mildred's
fiance), Baby LeRoy (Baby Dunk), Tammany Young (Everett Ricks), Josephine
Whittell (Mrs. Dunk) and Diana Lewis (Miss Dunk), `It's A Gift' is a
laugh-out-loud movie that can be watched over and over again; this is Fields
at his best, in a timeless classic comedy that gets funnier every time you
see it. For Field's fans, or for anyone who just wants to laugh and have a
good time, this film is a definite `must see.' I rate this one 10/10.
If W.C. Fields is the funniest comedian in sound films, and perfectly hilarious in starring vehicles (Bank Dick) and guest shots (International House), why is this one is his best? Because Fields' antagonists are, for once, as grand as The Great Man himself. Aside from an evil blind man, and a cheerfully homicidal baby (ever reliable Baby Leroy), there is the ultimate Spouse from Hell. Former Vogue editor turned actress Kathleen Howard is pure outraged selfishness (Fields' mirror image) as the wife; her declamatory style of acting would be at home in a John Waters epic. She is divine, and so is the film.
In "It's A Gift", W.C. Fields delivers enjoyable silliness as only he could
do it. It's quite a showcase for his brand of humor, and this movie has it
all, from sight gags to dry wit to hilarious predicaments to a put-upon
hero. There have been few comedians like Fields who could get so much
mileage out of simple ideas, or who could make outrageous ideas work so
The plot ostensibly concerns store owner Harold Bissonette (Fields), who dreams of owning an orange ranch in California, but very little actually happens in terms of a story - the emphasis is on the trials of daily life that Harold must endure. The movie is a series of comic set pieces in which Fields takes a simple situation and turns it into a stream of gags and laughs. His ability to find endless sources of humor in the most mundane of settings is an impressive contrast with the labored and often inappropriate efforts of so many of today's comic actors.
In this one, Fields also manages to create a pleasant atmosphere that, despite all the disorder in Harold's life, makes you feel at home with the characters. Many of the scenes also give one of the other cast members a chance for some good moments, and Kathleen Howard helps out a lot, too, as Harold's nagging wife. There's nothing to take seriously here, but if you're in the mood not to take anything seriously, this is a very enjoyable way to spend an hour or so.
IT'S A GIFT is probably W.C. Fields' best motion picture. BANK DICK certainly comes close, but IT'S A GIFT contains little actual slapstick, no impossible sight gags, and a completely realistic story line. Because of its sheer simplicity and ultimate hilarity, it must rank as one of the Top 5 comedies from any country. Fields is not what we would classify as a Chaplin-esque comedian. He was there to make people laugh, not think. But with IT'S A GIFT he presents a story which would've been worthy of Chaplin, Keaton, or any of the foreign masters like Jacques Tati. The story has Fields as a henpecked husband who wants nothing more than to buy an Orange Grove in California. The first half of the film details Fields attempts to run his local grocery store business and to try and maintain his sanity around his household, from which he is far the master. Then, he gets his wish when he is able to buy the orange ranch with some inheritance money. In true Fieldsian tradition, there turns out to be some problems with the ranch, but that doesn't stop him. The ending turns out to be Fields' most satisfying finale to any of his pictures. IT'S A GIFT (which was ironically panned in its day!) must surely rank as one of the top 5 comedies of any time, of any country, thus establishing W.C. Fields as one of the top comedians of any time, any where.
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