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The Great McGonigle's traveling theatrical troupe are staying at a boarding house. They are preparing to put on a production of "The Drunkard" (and do so during this movie). Cleopatra Pepperday puts up money for the show provided she can have a part ("Here comes the prince!"). Little Albert Wendelschaffer torments McGonigle all through lunch ("How can you hurt a watch by dipping it in molasses?"). In spite of being pursued by several sheriffs, McGonigle is able to keep going and see his daughter Betty happily married. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
Home, Sweet Home
Music partly composed, and arranged by H.R. Bishop from a Sicilian air
Lyrics by John Howard Payne (1823)
Played at 'The Drunkard' show and sung by some of the cast See more »
THOSE WERE THE HAPPIEST DAYS OF OUR LIVES, WILLIE!!!
This is the only time that W.C.Fields captured his brilliant juggling skills in a prolong scene in a feature film he starred in. In some of his late films, in decline, like SONG OF THE OPEN ROAD, he would do a portion of his billiard routine or some such work, but here he was fully involved doing the juggling as an encoure to his performance in THE DRUNKARD. And it fits neatly in that position too. Even into the 1920s it was not unusual for a stage star or manager to alter the mood of the evening by doing something unusual and opposite to what he or she had just done. While performing as Hamlet John Barrymore would do an occasional saxophone solo between acts. So why shouldn't Fields (or "the Great McGonigal") do a bit of juggling for an audience in the sticks?
Normally Fields character dominates his comedy, like Laurel and Hardy's personaes dominate their films, or like the Marx Brothers dominate theirs. But here the story line manages to blend everything better than in most of Fields films. Compare it with POPPY, where Fields (as Eustace McGargle) has to balance two story lines: his attempts to pass off his beloved adopted daughter Poppy as a missing heiress, and his attempt to hoodwink the yokels at a local fair. It would not be too hard to split that film into two movies. But here the story deals with the tribulations of a down-at-the-heels stage manager trying to hold his troop together, despite declining revenues. Actually, although it is a funny movie, THE OLD FASHIONED WAY is a study of tragic frustration. For, in the end, despite all his partial victories, McGonigal can't save his troop. He does put on the play THE DRUNKARD, but he fails to maintain the plays' "angel" Cleopatra Pepperday (Jan Dugan) as backer - he fails miserably in this, probably because he can't bring himself to put her into even one small scene as she is so bereft of talent. She is led to believe that her key line is "Here comes the Prince!", and is seen practicing it before the eyes of her friend the sheriff, who can't believe she is going to be on stage. She never does appear on stage, and is last seen crying with the sheriff trying to comfort her. McGonigal realizes he can't pay his troops salaries, nor the cost of their lodgings. And his daughter is going to leave him to marry the man she loves. Look at his face as he embraces her for what he knows is the last time. Who says Fields couldn't act? He is last seen selling some nostrum to the public, pretending to be hoarse until he drinks it. Only the faithful Tammany Young, as his shill, remains from his days of glory.
It's a real downer ending, but the comedy is superb. The scene of the trapped Fields forced to hear Dugan singing "the Sea Shell Song" is a triumph, and it is frequently forgotten that when McGonigal's daughter's boyfriend offers to audition, he says he knows the "Sea Shell Song" , almost causing Fields to have a stroke! Fields run-ins with Baby LeRoy (who even spoils his juggling routine) are a panic. It is a great little film, and one wishes it were shown more often.
Curiously enough the play THE DRUNKARD (written in the 1840s) was a leading melodrama of the 19th Century, and it would be brought back to the screen by another comic legend a few years later. Buster Keaton, as young Willum, confronted Alan Mowbray (as Lawyer Cribbs) in THE VILLAIN STILL PURSUES HER. That film too is rarely revived on television, and it would be interesting to see it and THE OLD FASHIONED WAY to compare versions of THE DRUNKARD. It is a hokey play by our standards, but in the 1840s, when temperance was such a major topic, it was very important. Still, one can't get out of one's mind the comment of a forgotten supporting bit player in THE OLD FASHIONED WAY. He's a young man, with his girlfriend, watching this play because it is the only entertainment in this one horse town. He looks somewhat more sophisticated than she does...she just looks star struck. He's observing her. "Oh, isn't it wonderful!", she gushes. "You think this is a good play?", he asks (emphasizing "this"). "Oh yes!", she responds. Well what can one say to that kind of reaction - probably quite a common one in the boondock areas of the United States in 1880 or so.
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