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Brain Donors (1992)
A Cult Movie--Really!!
A short word on Brain Donors (1992): Get it. I don't even think it was featured for a full week at the cinemas, but it made cable and that's where I found it. It is truly a great fast talking Marx Brothers movie--but made fifty years later. John Turturro is Groucho, Mel Smith is an English Chico and Bob Nelson is not quite a mute Harpo. But that's all right, we needed a new Marx Brother movie anyhow, and these guys will do. It's truly a clone of "Night At The Opera" but dressed up nineties-style and ballet instead of opera. So get it anyway and be prepared to laugh. By the way it came from the group that did Naked Gun and Hot Shots! movies, so you will know what you are in for. Enjoy!
Pauline Lord might have been the star but Bill Fields steals the show!
Mrs. Wiggs Of The Cabbage Patch was based on a novel, about the exploits of a fatherless family trying to survive, at least through Thanksgiving. Starring Pauline Lord, she plods on with her little brood, looking hopefully to the future. If the story ended with this, then we wouldn't be noting it here.
Paramount had to do something to liven it up, and make it more worthy, so they added a few trump cards, notably W.C. Fields and Zasu Pitts, with a budding romance between the two to make things a bit more interesting. That worked. Pitts is now just a remembered funny name of movies, but we tend to forget that her career was long, fruitful and funny, all of the way into television. Her sense of comic timing was legendary. Bill Fields in his role is somewhat subdued, but as a supporting actor, he dresses up the production greatly. Let's not give anything away here, but this is why I have a copy! Hard to find, (on Goodtimes), and at a budget price, try to find this one.
Tillie and Gus (1933)
One of Fields' "sleepers", Tillie and Gus is a great curiosity.
"Tillie And Gus" is a "Sleeper" for W.C. Fields. It is not one of his movies that he is best remembered for, but it has several components that make it a great curiosity. First of all, Fields is teamed up again with Alison Skipworth, the craggy character actress, who in her earlier stage career in England was known to be a great beauty. She is also as far as I'm concerned, Fields' greatest female co-star. She interacts with him well as she did in "If I Had A Million" and "Six of A Kind". The two are formerly man and wife in this saga, working as "missionaries" on different locations who are found out for their flim-flam ways and sent packing back home where they are summoned to the dockside of a niece, her husband and infant son (Baby Leroy), who are being swindled out of their inheritance by shyster lawyer Phineas Pratt. The niece owns a run-down riverboat, threatened to be put in mothballs by a newer boat. A race is run to determine which boat has superiority over the other, and who keeps the river franchise. Fields' and Skipworth's goals is to help win the race, receive the money to thwart Pratt, and to kick the bum out! Memorable scenes include The "Missionaries" working together to refix a poker game on the train to their benefit, and Fields' memorable line to the question "You like children?". "Only if they are properly cooked", he says. This film is seldom seen on television and never seen as a video. The rights to this and many other Fields' films are buried in the vaults of Universal Pictures. It should be released for all of us to see again.
Why, O Why is this film not on video?
"Mississippi" is the culmination of everything Paramount wanted to put in a film. It has a handsome singing star, Bing Crosby. It has a great comedy element with W.C. Fields. It is set in the south on a riverboat, has early Bing songs, Fields as the flim-flam captain, a bunch of Southerners interested in keeping their honor, and throw in a few bad guys, a couple of fights, and that is what Paramount was "paramount" in doing in those days. Bing is cast as a northerner set to marry a southern woman who lives in one of those great plantations, and who has a prettier younger sister. He is challenged by an evil ex-suitor, but won't duel with him. So Bing is cast out in disgrace to sing on Fields' riverboat. Bing has to somehow survive Fields' influence, get back on shore and re-claim his marital "prize". But she is married to the "bad guy". What does Bing do? What is his relationship with the cute younger sister? There just has to be a solid reason for no video never being made of this film. The racial inferences are mild for its day. Crosby is cast as "The Singing Killer" by Fields, quite out of Bing's character, especially later on. The rules of southern honor must have been quite different for a singer from Spokane. All in all this is a very entertaining movie with something for everyone.
If it gets to be on television, tape it. Universal owns the rights to it and has shown not to put it on video yet. For Bing and Fields' fans, this would be a great film to own and to see on a lazy Sunday summer afternoon.
The Old Fashioned Way (1934)
A valuable piece of Fieldsian history....
"The Old Fashioned Way" is a valuable piece of Fieldsian history. Filmed in 1934, it portrays the "Flim Flam" side of Fields as he leads his little theatrical troupe past sheriff and the general public in order to perform melodramas, and other feats of vaudeville. Always on a shoestring, this time McGonigle (Fields) enlists a local (Cleopatra Pepperday) to assist him in the play to keep it afloat. Her funds are enough to keep it running another time. WC is at his best in this comedy, and it is especially valuable, because Fields gets to do his old vaudeville juggling act at the end of the movie. Those of us who were aware of Fields' prowess as a juggler gets this only movie to show just how good he was, and a few years before his drinking would start to take its toll on him. This movie has never been released by Universal as a video, which owns the rights to it. Perhaps they are saving the release for an in-house party, for except for the occasional television viewing, there is no other way to see it. Come on, Universal, let's start releasing all of your Fields movies out of your dark and dingy vault! We promise to buy all of them if you do!
Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935)
One that most Fields Fan would want to buy.....
This is one film that most W C Fields Fans would want to buy--if it were available on video from Universal, the video source that has the deepest, darkest vaults in the video business. What Universal is not releasing (among many other Fields films) is a saga of Fields in his "Henpecked Husband" role as an office manager who has the answers to everything in the interior of his massive roll top desk. He is unappreciated by his wife, mother-in-law, and do nothing step-son, but loved by his grown daughter--a reoccuring theme in many of his movies. All he wants to do is take the afternoon off to go to the wrestling match, and being a loyal employee who does not want to offend his boss, thinks of an excuse to leave for the day. From here his day goes downhill. Does he ever see the match? Try to turn on the television and see this film, if it ever shows up on the major film "networks". Or, just pray for Universal to release this film on video. It's a great Fields film. Don't miss it if you can!
If I Had a Million (1932)
The ultimate episodic film.......
This is the ultimate episodic film, full of Paramount's biggest stars at the time including Gary Cooper, Charles Laughton, Charlie Ruggles and George Raft. Each star is featured in short one or two reelers based on the theme-What would happen if a tycoon gave a million dollars to a random person in the phone book? The results are funny, poignant, sad, and all are interesting. The comic segments include a memorable one (very short and to the point) by Laughton, and one by W.C. Fields which helped to resurrect his movie career.
The shame of it is that Universal Pictures Video has this movie and thousands others of Fields and other comedies and features locked in a vault and never released for video. One wonders why they are keeping secret all of these films that they could be making money on as a retail item. It is interesting to note that W.C. Fields basically began his premium sound career with his short bit from this film, and ended it in 1942 in another episodic film (recently restored to include him), "Tales of Manhattan" by Fox Video. At least Fox knows the value of bringing an old chestnut like that one to the market. If we are lucky, maybe someone at Universal will wise up and release "If I Had A Million", too.
The Fortune Cookie (1966)
One to remember Walter Matthau for....
If I had to buy a single movie showing Walter Matthau's genius as an actor, this may be the one, for as good as Jack Lemmon always is in a movie, Walter shines here as the shyster brother-in-law lawyer, and the Best Supporting Oscar was awarded to him rightly for this role. Matthau, always the man who acted through sicknesses went through a heart attack during this one. The scene that he runs up the stairs after receiving the settlement check, a keen eye could notice that he is thinner at the top of the stairs. That was because he shot that scene after his attack. This movie begins the long association with Lemmon/Matthau. The next movie was to be "The Odd Couple". What a great bunch of entertaining movies they were. And this was the first one.
The General (1926)
A good introduction to Keaton features.
I do agree that "The General" should have been on the top 100 list. Buster Keaton is the icon of the successful comedy writer/director/actors in the 1920's. It just so happens that "The General" is a history lesson as well, and scholars at the time felt that this movie was about as authentic looking as a Matthew Brady photograph of the Civil War. It contains the most expensive stunt done up to that time-the locomotive plunging into the river (not a model). The movie was a labor of love from Keaton and crew and deserves to find a place in movie history long after other silents of the era have disintegrated. After viewing this movie, go on to "Our Relations" and the other fine(and perhaps funnier) movies that Keaton made, and discover the two-reelers, especially "Cops". But this one is special. It is right out of your history book.