Poppy, daughter of carnival medicine salesman Professor McGargle, falls in love with the Mayor's son. Countess Maggie Tubbs DePuizzi is claimant to the Putnam estates, but McGargle and lawyer Wiffen plot to make Poppy claim the fortune. Wiffen and the Countess double-cross the Professor, but kindly Sarah Tucker notices a resemble between Poppy and the deceased Mrs. Putnam. It turns out that McGargle adopted the girl, she is the rightful heir, the purported Countess is only a showgirl, and every one has a happy ending. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
Mr. Whiffeen tells me your wife has passed away.
Professor Eustace McGargle:
Yes, the poor dear was killed in Upper Sandusky - run over by a pie wagon, a hit-and-gallop-away driver. One of the horses stepped upon... Never mind the details! Never mind the details!
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POPPY (Paramount, 1936), directed by A. Edward Sutherland, stars WC Fields as Professor Eustace McGargle, a role he originated in the 1923 stage production of the same name, and reprised in a silent 1925 adaptation retitled SALLY OF THE SAWDUST for United Artists, directed by D.W. Griffith, starring Carol Dempster not as Poppy, but as Sally. This 1936 version, which premiered June 25, 2001, on Turner Classic Movies, is said to have been more faithful to the play than the Griffith-directed incarnation. Aside from the usual Fields comedy supplements, he also manages to show the sentimental side to his character, as he did as The Great McGonigle in THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY (1934), where he also cheated suckers while finding time to be a loving and caring father to his grown daughter. POPPY could very well have been a sequel to THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY, considering the same time period and Fields' character names in both films sounding identical, from McGonigle to McGargle. However, I find POPPY to be one of Fields' more quieter comedies. Host Robert Osborne of TCM mentioned prior the presentation of the movie that Fields was quite ill and in great pain during the making of the movie, but succeeded in finishing the film in what might have been his farewell performance (which explains why WC wasn't having his usual field day as he did in his past comedies). Had Fields died following the completion of the film, what a fine conclusion it would have been to his great career, with W.C. not only reprising the role he made famous on stage, but in saying this memorable line to his on-screen daughter, Poppy, as he gives her his expert fatherly advice, "Never give a sucker an even break," before the fadeout.
Set in 1883, Professor Eustace McGargle, a swindling carnival man wearing top hat, checkered pants and spats, comes to a small town with his daughter, Poppy (Rochelle Hudson) where he establishes himself as the prize medicine selling star of a traveling carnival, while Poppy wanders about and meets and falls in love with Billy Farnsworth (Richard Cromwell), a mayor's son, but because of Poppy's sideshow background, the Farnsworth family look down on her. Only Sarah Tucker (Maude Eburne), a matron woman, takes a liking to Poppy, and later discovers something about her true identity that makes things right again with the Farnsworths.
Aside from the romantic subplot between Hudson and Cromwell (who nearly resembles MGM's own Franchot Tone when wearing that derby), Fields manages to come off with some good comedy routines, such as cheating a bartender into buying his "talking" dog; purchasing frankfurthers (or better known to some as hot dogs) for himself and Poppy from a vendor (Tom Kennedy) with McGargle telling him that he will get paid at the conclusion of his engagement. The outraged vendor demands the money for his hot dogs, so McGargle and Poppy decide that since they cannot pay for them, they might as well give them back to him, half-eaten, ending with this funny exchange: Kennedy: "Listen you tramp, how am I gonna sell these again?" Fields: "First you insult me, then you ask my advice concerning salesmanship!" This amusing bit is soon followed by McGargle selling medicine bottles for one dollar. A naive patron (Bill Wolfe) acquires one and pays for them by giving McGargle a $5 bill, but never gets his $4 change. Instead, McGargle quiets down the customer by giving him four more bottles, and "No more!!"; followed by some amusing bits involving character actress Catherine Doucet as Countess Maggie Tubbs DePuizzi. When Fields is not on screen, Hudson as Poppy gets to sing one nice song, "Rendezvous With a Dream" (by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin) twice. The title tune of "Poppy" is sung by off-screen singers during its opening credits. Also featured in the cast are Lynne Overman as a hick lawyer; Rosalind Keith as the snobbish Frances Parker; and Granville Bates, among others.
In spite of some leisure moments, POPPY, which runs at 73 minutes, is really worth viewing and rediscovering to fans of the Great Tomato Nose himself. Thanks to TCM for bringing this rare gem back on TV again. (***1/2)
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