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Fields wants to sell a film story to Esoteric Studios. On the way he gets insulted by little boys, beat up for ogling a woman, and abused by a waitress. He becomes his niece's guardian when her mother is killed in a trapeze fall during the making of a circus movie. He and his niece, who he finds at a shooting gallery, fly to Mexico to sell wooden nutmegs in a Russian colony. Trying to catch his bottle as it falls from the plane, he lands on a mountain peak where lives the man- eating Mrs. Hemogloben. When he gets to the Russian colony he finds Leon Errol (father of the insulting boys and owner of the shooting gallery) already selling wooden nutmegs. He decides to woo the wealthy Mrs. Hemogloben but when he gets there Errol has preceded him. The Mexican adventure is the story that Esoteric Studios would not buy. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK (Universal, 1941), directed by Edward Cline, stars the legendary comic, WC Fields, in his final starring role. While Fields' catchphrase title might indicate a circus story or one about a man cheating at cards, it's actually a satire on Hollywood, in fact, Fields poking fun of himself. In spite of some Hollywood in-jokes, two or three separate stories for the price of one, along with site gags lifted with some alterations taken from earlier Fields comedies to assure guaranteed belly laughs, this is probably the strangest comedies ever made, even for Fields, and it's funny. Actually, for a movie without a real story, it's quite funny. It even features teenage soprano Gloria Jean acting as Fields' niece. She's not really funny but adds that certain charm into the story, even when frequently saying to herself or looking directly to the camera, "My Uncle Bill, and I still love him." She takes time out to sing a couple of songs, either straight through or with interruptions by others, and even with that, it's still funny. In short, for a movie that bears no resemblance to a movie, it's very funny.
From an original story by Otis Griblecoblis (guess who that is), the scenario revolves around W.C. Fields playing himself as he goes to Esoteric Studios for a conference with production head (Franklin Pangborn playing himself), to present a screenplay he has written for his next production. After Pangborn reads through the script (in which Fields, Jean and Leon Errol enact their roles through add in sequences for the movie audience), he finds it an insult to a man's intelligence, even his, for that the story, consisting of Fields traveling on an airplane with his niece, consisting of compartment beds, later to jump overboard from an observation deck to retrieve his liquor bottle that has fallen, landing unharmed on the mountaintop where lives the middle-aged Daisy Hemogloben (Margaret Dumont), the richest woman in the world, and her youthful daughter, Ouliotta (Susan Miller), who has never seen a man, which leads Fields to teach her a kissing game. Because Mrs. Hemoglobem is worth millions, Fields finds himself competing with Leon Errol for her hand in marriage. After the script is rejected, Fields drives away from the studio with Gloria, drops her off at a drug store, which is followed by Fields' assisting a middle-aged woman he believes to be in labor, on a mad drive through the streets over to the maternity hospital. If this lengthy car chase involving police cars and fire trucks looks familiar, much of it was reused for the Abbott and Costello comedy, IN SOCIETY (1944).
Many years following the initial release of NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK, WC Fields still has loyal fans who continue to love "Uncle Bill" as Gloria Jean does in the story. Sadly, age has caught up with Fields, looking older than his 62 years, being physically heavier and reciting his lines in a slower manner than usual, but in spite of these handicaps that marked the end of his career in a leading role, Fields proves to still be capable in being funny, even through a story without a plot tied together with a series of sight gags, ranging from Fields' encounter with a snooty waitress (Jody Gilbert) in a diner, to dealing with two mischievous boy actors named Buddy and Butch (Kenneth Brown and Billy Lenhart), to one of the funniest car rides ever put on film.
Soundtrack includes Gloria Jean singing "Estrellita" and Johann Strauss's "Voices of Spring," Russians singing "Ochye Tchornia" and Susan Miller doing a jive number to "Comin' Through the Rye."
Others in the cast include Mona Barrie Pangborn's wife; Charles Lang as Peter Carson, the engineer; and in smaller roles, from Carlotta Monti to character actors Irving Bacon and Bill Wolfe. Anne Nagel, who appears in the opening scene as Gloria Jean's mother, Madame Gorgeous, was originally supposed to have a scene where she is killed in a trapeze fall while working in a circus film, leaving Fields as Gloria Jean's guardian, but this piece ended up on the cutting room floor, leaving no explanation in the final print to the disappearance of Gorgeous and Fields' sudden guardianship of Gloria Jean.
NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK should make a good double feature with THE BANK DICK (1940) mainly due to certain similarities, such as Fields starring in both, each having the same opening and closing musical score, as well as the Fields introduction in the story as he's standing on the street looking at the billboard advertisement that reads W.C. Fields in THE BANK DICK.
Of the handful of movies made throughout the 1940s to feature Gloria Jean, NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK is the only one to have survived on the television markets the longest, solely because it has WC Fields, whose comedies have become legendary. A delightful young actress/singer, Gloria Jean was quite popular in her day but as fate would have it, with each passing decade, much of her film work, mostly second features, are hardly shown anymore. Although Gloria Jean is largely forgotten by today's standards, at least there is a movie of hers to still be in circulation today, and it's this one. Available on either video cassette and/or DVD format, NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK, which formerly played on the American Movie Classics cable channel from 1995 to 1999, followed by its Turner Classic Movies debut in 2001, continues to be a funny movie as well as a confusing one. What was the story about? We'll never know for sure. Our Uncle Bill ... and we still love him. (***)
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