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W.C. Fields uses his expert timing and his large collection of gags to make
"The Bank Dick" a classic comedy that gets even better as it goes along.
The amusing, tangled plot gives Fields plenty of material to work with, and
the other characters also pitch in to keep you smiling.
After a few amusing introductory scenes that introduce Egbert Sousé, the kind of character Fields loved to play, things really start rolling once Egbert somehow manages to land a job as a bank detective. The wackier the plot gets, the more it shows just how effective Fields's dry style can be. His stoic character and the confusion going on around him often make a hilarious combination. It's very entertaining, goes by quickly, and is filled with comic detail that makes it just as funny when you watch it over again.
The irreverent Fields gives spark to what would otherwise have been a
quite humdrum comedy movie.
His politically incorrect jokes seem very present-day, and so makes you understand that the people back in the 1940's weren't so far removed from us as we sometimes think.
Fields is nasty to children, his wife and the bank examiner, whistles at pretty girls and in general just behaves terribly. You wouldn't think they would film stuff like that back in 1940, but Fields did. The movie is populated by crooks and phonies, as for instance the bank president, who says "let me give you a hardy handshake" and then just rests his hand lightly in Fields' for a second. It's a very observant and stinging visual commentary which tells more than many phrases: that's what films are good at, and it is used here to great effect.
The final car chase is really scary, with extra's ducking under cars with only inches to spare!
THE BANK DICK (Universal, 1940), directed by Edward Cline, from an
original story and screenplay by Mahatma Kane Jeeves, better known as
W.C. Fields, stars none other than W.C. Fields in his third of four
comedies for Universal, a classic in the sense of it becoming his most
famous and admired works next to IT'S A GIFT (Paramount, 1934). Unlike
YOU CAN CHEAT AN HONEST MAN (1939) where Fields loses screen time in
favor with a ventriloquist act of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy; MY
LITTLE CHICKADEE (1940) in which he divides his time with Mae West; and
NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK (1941) where he steps aside in favor
for the singing of the teen-age Gloria Jean, THE BANK DICK is pure
Fields from start to finish. As the head of a household of a
dysfunctional family, with Fields playing the henpecked husband on
screen for the last time, the supporting players consists of a fine
assortment of character actors who can be just as funny as Fields
himself and not draw attention away from him.
As for the story, set in the town of Lompoc, the focus obviously is on Egbert Souse, accent over the final "E" (W.C. Fields), an unemployed husband who spends much of his leisure time smoking cigarettes and hanging around the local bar, The Black Pussy Cat Cafe, as well as coping with Agatha, his wife, (Cora Witherspoon), Mrs. Hermisillo Brunch, his mother-in-law (Jessie Ralph), Myrtle, his adult daughter, (Una Merkel) and Elsie Mae Adele Brunch, the obnoxious youngster, (Evelyn Del Rio). Of the members in his family, only Myrtle, his eldest, understands him. Aside from being a character herself, she's is in love with the hayseed Og Oggilby (Grady Sutton), a bank teller who later encounters a couple of robbers at his window and forced to hand over a large sum of money at a point of a gun. When their getaway car is taken away, the crooks make a run for it by foot. Chased by the police, one gets away while the other is found by Souse seated on a bench nearby, making him a hero for "capturing the crook." In gratitude Souse is awarded a job as a special officer by Mr. Skinner (Pierre Watkin), the bank president. In order for Oggilby to earn enough money to marry Myrtle, Souse arranges for him to invest the bank's money on Beefstake Mines Stock, which finds Souse spending much time preventing the visiting bank examiner (Franklin Pangborn) from looking over the books to find a shortage. More complications occur when the bank gets robbed again with Souse being forced to take the driver's seat in another exciting car chase from the police.
Supporting players enacting under oddball names include Shemp Howard as Joe Guelpe, the bartender whose whistle to "Listen to the Mockingbird" entices Souse to follow him to the bar; Richard Purcell as Mackley Q. Greene; Russell Hicks as J. Frothingham Waterbury; Jack Norton as A. Pismo Clam; Bill Wolfe as Otis, with Jan Duggan, another favorite of the Fields stock players, once again doing a funny bit, playing a mother in the back whose son pokes fun of Souse's nose. While Al Hill is credited as Filthy McNasty in the credits, he is called Repulsive Rogan in the final story. As or the support provided by the diversified Una Merkel, her performance is unlike the assortment of starlets, ranging from Mary Brian, Judith Allen or Constance Moore as Fields' daughters playing their roles in a more serious-minded and caring nature while Merkel provides her role with comic flare and free-spirit. She was true to the sense amusing where comedy involving her is concerned. Merkel and Grady Sutton (in his final Fields comedy) make a perfect odd couple.
THE BANK DICK may have some flaws, such as having the audience accept the middle-aged Fields and Cora Witherspoon as parents to a minor child while physically they pass more as grandparents. However, overlooking such minor details, highlights include Souse filling in for a drunken director (Norton) of Tel-Avis Picture Productions, a movie company filming on location; Sousé getting the bank examiner (Pangborn) ill on a "Michael Finn" drinks in order to keep him from examining the books; the climatic car chase; and bank president Mr. Skinner on two separate occasions giving Sousé the "hearty hand clasp" in which Skinner's fingers barely touches Souse's outstretched palm heightened by going to a split-second freeze-frame. While the attention is focused more on Souses' outside activities than on his domestic affairs, one cannot ignore the underscoring to "There's No Place Like Home" used during each opening scene at the Souse household.
THE BANK DICK, along with MY LITTLE CHICKADEE, became the first of Fields' comedies to be distributed on cassette during the early days of home video in the 1980s. Other than frequent revivals on commercial television prior to 1990, THE BANK DICK assured popularity to a new generation when it shifted over to cable stations, first on American Movie Classics from 1995 to 1999, and after wards premiering on Turner Classic Movies in 2001.
Fields' fourth and final starring role for Universal being NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK (1941) not only reunites him with Franklin Pangborn, but opens and closes with the same underscoring from THE BANK DICK as well as Fields, playing himself, seen standing in front of a billboard advertisement which reads "W.C. Fields in THE BANK DICK." Because of these similarities, these Fields comedies make logical choices as double features whether on television or a DVD package. As THE BANK DICK is a fun movie, it's kind of sad in a way watching this comedian named W.C. Fields, older and heavier, in what's to become the final phase to his long career. All good things come to an end but the legend of Fields and his movies lingers on.
a source of strange joy, even in its quiet and failed moments. great
moments mostly mumbled and underplayed so that the film seems so humble
so unaggressive, unlike most comedies now which would wring your neck if
they could...Fields' before-its-time irony and self-consciousness about
moviemaking is revealed in a throwaway line during the car chase at the
end...in the midst of all the obviously speeded-up film and projection
effects, Egbert Souse deadpans "you're going to make me have an
accident....." I'm almost ready to move into Lompoc, with its
Spanish-Americo chili parlor, and, I hope, "rivers of beer flowing over
grandmother's paisley shawl...." and, apparently, absinthe is still
This is the second best Fields film (after It's a Gift) and it's similar in that it casts Fields as the lovable drunk with an absolutely hateful family. From the almost surreal episode directing the movie to the eye-poppingly ridiculous chase scene, this one is pure comic entertainment. One side note: it's sad and not a little scary how bloated and tired the Great Man looks in this compared to just six years earlier when It's a Gift was released.
This movie is so brilliant, it is almost sad that Fields did not make
more movies than he did. As 1940 approached, he actually was doing his
best work but was in deteriorating health through his death in 1946.
This movie was all written and done under Field's supervision and a
masterpiece it is.
The all time funniest scene in movie history, in my opinion, was when he gets the bank examiner, J. Pinkerton Snoopington drunk and sick and brings him back to the hotel he was staying at. When he allegedly falls out the window and Field's comes running down the stairs to retrieve him was so brilliantly executed, it's amazing. He moves the camera to the far side of the lobby which allows you to get the full view of him running down the stairs. While the content of this humor may seem ordinary, it was filmed and executed brilliantly and is forever etched in my mind as the single most funny scene I can think of in movie history.
This is a wonderful example of classic comedy from the late vaudeville era. Fields is brilliant in spite of the fact that he's far past his prime. The story is fun and timeless. I saw it years ago, and I have watched it a couple times since I got my DVD last week. It's a movie worth having on your shelf.
'The Bank Dick' is a wonderful piece of comedy from W.C. Fields. He plays the town loser, who is given a job as a bank security guard when it appears that he helped stop a bank robbery. Fields' scenes with Franklin Pangborn as the bank examiner are the highlight of the film. The climactic chase sequence, with Fields mentioning points of interest as he is chased by the police, is also hilarious. Only a sequence early in the film, in which Fields pretends to be a Hollywood film director, fails to delight. Overall, a comedy classic!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The second to last film in which The Great Man starred is widely
regarded as his signature work, a deserved estimation for a number of
reasons. However, it should be stressed that this does not guarantee
that it will preserve the curious into a fan: THE BANK DICK is a
product so painstakingly characteristic for its creator that it may be
required to view the comedy in context to him. With this film in 1940,
W.C. Fields was at last considered powerful enough to do his whole act
again, having been forced to perform on radio and only as a side-kick
to other stars during the last few years, after his drinking habits had
caused him severe illness. The Great Man was ready to confirm that his
grit was still present; some would say more than ever before.
Problems were soon to occur, though. Universal objected to several parts of Fields's script, and hired a writer to change story structure and dialogue. Thankfully, experienced director Eddie Cline recognized which of the scripts that was superior; hence the original version passed by with minor changes. What remains is a comedy which appears surprisingly modern, not only in terms of humor but also in tone. Many viewers tend to express disappointment in the admittedly nail-thin thread to which the material is tied; and in the process, not recognizing the fact that a loose story is not necessarily a disadvantage. Having observed the dysfunctional family eating breakfast, we are hastily introduced to our hero Mr. Anti-Hero --a certain Egbert Sousé, that is-- replacing a movie director, only to soon witness his mishaps as a "Bank Dick." This lack of continuity serves at least one highly significant purpose: instead, we are presented with scenes to thoroughly characterize Sousé himself, along with his family and dubious associates. This focus on characterization is really from where the movie, and the comedy, evolves; for the most part, the eccentric personalities simply struggle to survive one another, with one hopeless dilemma leading to the next. Everything is a result of the previous. That is the one thing they know for sure in life.
Certain reviews and posts at the message board confirm that THE BANK DICK is not a comedy for the entire family, so to speak. Without underestimating the brilliance and originality of several of his contemporaries, it is a fact that screen comedy before Fields was, generally speaking, quite innocent and suitable for most ages. Problems in the family, controlling wives, and annoying children; sure, it had all served as sure-fire inspiration for all of the comedians at one time or another. However, what is unique when we see Fields confronted with such problems in THE BANK DICK, is that his character witnesses the mayhem from the perspective of a comparatively mature reality. When Laurel and Hardy, lovable as they are, elope from their wives, one can be quite certain that the women will take off in a pursuit immediately, emphasizing that what we are presented with is a truly cartoonish world, and we need not to worry about it. As a contrast, when Egbert's wife nags at her husband for smoking in the house, probably just in need for something to complain about, it's delivered in a way which seems almost uncomfortably close to a truly convincing, dysfunctional family atmosphere. So much so that, while hideously funny, much of the humor comes off as rather dark in essence. "Don't you dare strike that child!" "Well she's not gonna tell ME I don't love her!"
Apart from this, first-time viewers should be aware that based upon my experience, THE BANK DICK improves after each viewing. I did find it funny after first viewing, but much more so during the second time; having got more acquainted with the characters, I howled with laughter throughout. Numerous lines and sketches come to mind, but there is particularly one part which I simply can't resist mentioning here: bank examiner J. Pinkerton Snoopington (played by ever-brilliant Frankling Pangborn) is offered a drink by Sousé --for reasons I will not reveal-- and consequently forced to bed due to a hangover worthy of acclaim. Helping the poor thing to bed, Sousé drops him out of the window, presumably by accident. The manner in which Fields rushes downstairs in order to save him, determined yet underneath quite matter-of-factly, is a brief moment of priceless comedy which beautifully demonstrates the comedian's ability to achieve subtlety into his acts, when it was required for. Sensitive cheek-bones should stay away, though.
Thank you for reading this review. Now, turn off your computer, put this film in the player and laugh your head off. THE BANK DICK may not be the very funniest film Fields ever made in my book (IT'S A GIFT and MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE share that nomination), and it seems totally deprived of the tiny soft spot which had often been present in previous Fields-films. Yet, the film easily presents the comedian at his most daring -- and purest. A feast of laughter from start to finish, once you get it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Has there ever been a better satire on the hypocrisies of small-town
life before the Second World War than this comic masterpiece of 1940?
W.C. Fields as Egbert Sousé, accent grave on the e, is the victim of
female tyranny and American matriarchy triumphant: his wife, his
mother-in-law and his dreadful brat of a daughter all abuse him both
verbally and physically; he bears their insults stoically with no other
escape than the sanctity of the local saloon, poetically labeled The
Black Pussy Café, the only place in town where he is treated with any
semblance of respect by a bartender, Shemp Howard, one of the Three
Stooges minus his other two brothers. Into this sanctuary wander
bizarre representatives of the outside world, the real world a
sissified bank examiner (Franklin Pangborn); a slick traveling salesman
peddling shares in the Beef Stake mine (Pierre Watkins); a harassed
assistant director (Pat West) looking for a replacement for a drunken
Fields deals with them all with his usual nonchalance and cunning. He is existentially alone, mumbling asides to himself along the way, caring not if anyone listens, rarely complaining, making the best of whatever good or bad fortune that comes his way. In this American Dream turned on its head and upside down and sideways, Sousé, the forgotten man, turns out in the end to be a true hero through no fault or skill of his own, and is rewarded with a contract to direct a movie as well as a hearty hand clasp! A film not to be missed if you want to understand what this crazy nation is all about.
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