IMDb > You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (1939)
You Can't Cheat an Honest Man
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George Marion Jr. (screen play) &
Richard Mack (screen play) ...
View company contact information for You Can't Cheat an Honest Man on IMDbPro.
Release Date:
18 February 1939 (USA) See more »
Larson E. Whipsnade runs a seedy circus which is perpetually in debt. His performers give him nothing but trouble... See more » | Add synopsis »
Plot Keywords:
(5 articles)
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User Reviews:
A Slight Case of Larson E. See more (15 total) »


  (in credits order) (verified as complete)

W.C. Fields ... Larson E. Whipsnade
Edgar Bergen ... The Great Edgar
Charlie McCarthy ... By Himself

Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson ... Rochester (as Eddie Anderson)
Mortimer Snerd ... By Himself
Constance Moore ... Victoria Whipsnade

John Arledge ... Phineas Whipsnade
James Bush ... Roger Bel-Goodie
Thurston Hall ... Mr. Bel-Goodie
Mary Forbes ... Mrs. Bel-Goodie
Edward Brophy ... Corbett
Arthur Hohl ... Burr
Princess Baba ... Princess Baba
Blacaman ... By Himself
rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Ernie Adams ... Eddie - Circus Attendant (uncredited)
Dorothy Arnold ... 1st Debutante (uncredited)
Irving Bacon ... Jailer (uncredited)
Lulu Mae Bohrman ... Wedding Guest (uncredited)
Ralph Brooks ... Wedding Guest (uncredited)
Eddy Chandler ... Highway Patrol Officer (uncredited)
Dora Clement ... Woman (uncredited)
Jack Clifford ... Riding Master (uncredited)
Richard Clucas ... Little Boy (uncredited)
Charles Coleman ... Robinson - Bel-Goodie's Butler (uncredited)
Evelyn Del Rio ... Little Girl Who Cries (uncredited)
Drew Demorest ... Barker (uncredited)
Dick Dickinson ... Contortionist (uncredited)
Jan Duggan ... Mrs. Sludge (uncredited)
Eddie Dunn ... Cop (uncredited)
Billy Engle ... Circus Attendant (uncredited)
Jack Gardner ... Ticket Seller (uncredited)
Grace Goodall ... Screaming Spinster / Wedding Guest (uncredited)
Jennifer Gray ... 3rd Debutante (uncredited)
Bobby Hale ... Circus Attendant (uncredited)
Ted Hardy ... Russian Circus Performer (uncredited)
Sam Harris ... Wedding Guest (uncredited)
Leyland Hodgson ... Butler (uncredited)
Otto Hoffman ... Mayor (uncredited)
Lloyd Ingraham ... Mayor / Wedding Guest (uncredited)
Frank Jenks ... Jerry - Assistant (uncredited)
Si Jenks ... Hillbilly (uncredited)
Tiny Jones ... Spectator (uncredited)
Jack Kenney ... Barker (uncredited)
Joe King ... Policeman (uncredited)

Ivan Lebedeff ... Ronnie (uncredited)
Ethelreda Leopold ... Blonde at Party (uncredited)
Jimmie Lucas ... Barker (uncredited)
Kathryn Marlowe ... 2nd Debutante (uncredited)
Eric Mayne ... Wedding Guest (uncredited)
Frank Melton ... First Yokel (uncredited)
Harold Miller ... Party Guest (uncredited)
Edmund Mortimer ... Wedding Guest (uncredited)
James C. Morton ... Judge (uncredited)
Ray Moyer ... Fire Eater (uncredited)
Byron Munson ... Ping-Pong Player (uncredited)
Charles Murphy ... Lon - Roustabout (uncredited)
Frank O'Connor ... Cop with Judge (uncredited)
George Offerman Jr. ... Western Union Man (uncredited)
David Oliver ... Man Cheated at Window (uncredited)
George Ovey ... Circus Attendant (uncredited)
Lee Phelps ... Sheriff (uncredited)
June Preston ... Little Blond Girl Singing and Dancing (uncredited)
Ralph Sanford ... Truck Driver (uncredited)
Harry Stafford ... Party Guest (uncredited)
Grady Sutton ... Chester Dalrymple (uncredited)
Ferris Taylor ... Deputy Sheriff (uncredited)
Don Terry ... Ping-Pong Player (uncredited)
Walter Tetley ... Boy with Candy Cane (uncredited)
Edward Thomas ... Bel-Goodie Butler (uncredited)
Lelah Tyler ... Society Woman / Wedding Guest (uncredited)
Minerva Urecal ... Screaming Spinster at Circus (uncredited)
Dale Van Sickel ... Wedding Guest (uncredited)
Russell Wade ... Wedding Guest (uncredited)
Beryl Wallace ... Girl (uncredited)
Delmar Watson ... Boy with Slingshot (uncredited)
Florence Wix ... Wedding Guest (uncredited)
Bill Wolfe ... Ticket Buyer / Brentwood - World's Smallest Giant (uncredited)
Edward Woolf ... Thin Man (uncredited)
Bill Worth ... Elwood - World's Largest Midget (uncredited)
Arthur Yeoman ... Barker (uncredited)
Duke York ... Minor Role (uncredited)

Directed by
George Marshall 
Edward F. Cline (uncredited)
Writing credits
George Marion Jr. (screen play) &
Richard Mack (screen play) &
Everett Freeman (screen play)

W.C. Fields (story) (as Charles Bogle)

Henry Johnson  contributor to screen play construction and special sequences (uncredited)
Lew Lipton  contributor to screen play construction and special sequences (uncredited)
Manuel Seff  contributor to screen play construction (uncredited)
James Seymour  contributor to screen play construction (uncredited)

Produced by
Lester Cowan .... producer
Original Music by
Frank Skinner (uncredited)
Cinematography by
Milton R. Krasner (director of photography) (as Milton Krasner)
Film Editing by
Otto Ludwig (film editor)
Art Direction by
Jack Otterson 
Set Decoration by
Russell A. Gausman (set decorations) (as R.A. Gausman)
Costume Design by
Vera West (gowns)
Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
Vernon Keays .... assistant director
Edward F. Cline .... second unit director (uncredited)
Vernon Keays .... second unit director (uncredited)
Edward Sedgwick .... second unit director (uncredited)
Art Department
Charles H. Clarke .... associate art director
Sound Department
Bernard B. Brown .... sound supervisor
Robert Pritchard .... technician
Music Department
Charles Previn .... musical director
Sam Perry .... composer: stock music (uncredited)
Paul Van Loan .... composer: stock music (uncredited)
Franz Waxman .... composer: stock music (uncredited)
Other crew
David Lipton .... unit publicist (uncredited)
Cliff Work .... production assistant (uncredited)
Crew verified as complete

Production CompaniesDistributors

Additional Details

Also Known As:
79 min
Aspect Ratio:
1.37 : 1 See more »
Sound Mix:
Mono (Western Electric Recording)
USA:Approved (PCA #5101)

Did You Know?

W.C. Fields became a big hit on radio, especially on Edgar Bergen's radio program, where he had a long-running "feud" with Charlie McCarthy. This film was an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of that feud by having it carried on in a movie.See more »
Burr:Would you like to make a few honest dollars for yourself?
Whipsnade:Do they have to be honest?
See more »
Movie Connections:
Featured in W.C. Fields: Straight Up (1986) (TV)See more »
Camptown RacesSee more »


This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.
4 out of 6 people found the following review useful.
A Slight Case of Larson E., 23 September 2005
Author: lugonian from Kissimmee, Florida

YOU CAN'T CHEAT AN HONEST MAN (Universal, 1939) directed by George Marshall, is a circus movie, and with W.C. Fields in the lead, accompanied by the support of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy, along with an assortment of oddball characters, ranging from another dummy named Mortimer Snerd, to human numskull Grady Sutton, plus circus attractions of the world's largest midget and smallest giant, one should expect this madcap comedy to be none other than a circus. In spite of its backdrop, where much of it takes place, there's no man on the flying trapeze nor Sally of the Sawdust or clowns juggling bowling pins, yet, Fields provides several opportunities clowning around by not taking it's title seriously. He is far from being an honest man and actually does most of the cheating, not in the illicit sense, but as a circus impresario who holds back salaries from his employees and cheating his paying customers of their change.

The story actually concerns Larson E. Whipsnade (W.C. Fields), the manager of a circus, who is heavily in debt of $3500, and in a comedic way, is at wits end with his troupe and constantly one step ahead of the sheriff. His problems are further complicated when Vicki (Constance Moore), his attractive daughter, becomes interested in the Great Edgar (Bergen), but in order to help their father out of his financial difficulties and from being arrested, Phineas (John Arledge), her brother, arranges for Vicki to marry Roger Bel-Goodie (James Bush), the son of society snobs (Thurston Hall and Mary Forbes), who may have money but not her love.

The supporting cast consists of circus performers Blacaman and Princess Baba playing themselves; Edward Brophy as Corbett; Arthur Hohl as Burr; Eddie "Rochester" Anderson as Cheerful, the crap-shooting handyman; and several Fields staff players including Grady Sutton, Jan Dugan and Bill Wolfe in smaller roles, plus Evelyn Del Rio, who would go on to play Fields' brat of a daughter in the upcoming comedy, THE BANK DICK (1940), seen here as a crying girl annoys Whipsnade about her "lost" dog. Children and animals continue to make good comedy props for Fields in this one.

The movie itself comes is a sort of mixed blessing for some considering how comedy routines shift from Fields to the antics of Bergen and McCarthy. The ventriloquist and his dummies acting like humans certainly will appeal to younger children than Fields, yet the older kids or adults with minds of children could find the Bergen, McCarthy and Snerd exchanges quite intrusive. While the Fields comedies of the past focused solely on his character, he doesn't have the entire movie nor does he share much screen time with Bergen and McCarthy in spite of their current popularity of verbal insults on radio. The story itself, written by Fields, under the assumed name of Charles Bogle, is slight with some situations unresolved, but the verbal exchanges and comedy routines are first rate. Standouts include Fields taking a shower behind a circus tent as his elephant Queenie acquires water from a bucket and sprays upon his command of "Give Queenie!"; Fields staging a ventriloquist act sporting a false mustache as none laughing spectators look on with blank expressions; and if those scenes don't provoke laughter, then the climatic ping-pong game at the society party certainly will. Watch how character actress Jan Duggan catches the ball.

YOU CAN'T CHEAT AN HONEST MAN has become a favorite on commercial television for many years, and later on cable channels, including American Movie Classics from 1995 to 1998, and Turner Classic Movies where it made its premiere in June 2001. Take notice that the prints available on these mentioned cable channels are not from the original 1939 release but from reissue copies with an entire different background during its introduction elevating Eddie "Rochester" Anderson's name (of Jack Benny radio fame) from bottom billing to co-starring status, thus reducing co-stars Bergen, McCarthy and Constance Moore further down the list. Video prints, from MCA Home Video, however, have become available with its original theatrical opening credits.

For his debut at Universal Studios after many years at Paramount, W.C. Fields comes off to a good start. It's may not be perfect but the laughs are there. Several comedy routines from previous Fields comedies are repeated here, and in many ways, much improved. The feud between Fields and "smart mouth" McCarthy continue to become highlights. McCarthy to Fields: "Is that a tomato or your nose?" McCarthy eventually gets his from Whipsnade (Fields) in one scene where the child-like dummy finds himself inside a live crocodile. After watching this, the circus may never be the same again, thanks to the one and only Larceny Whipsnake, better known as Larson E. Whipsnade, profession, "Honest Man." (**1/2)

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