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Running Wild (1927)

Cowardly Elmer Finch is browbeaten by his wife, daughter, fat son and the family dog. After hypnosis he is domineering. He enters a contract with a fifteen-thousand dollar payoff, so his ... See full summary »

Director:

Gregory La Cava

Writers:

Roy Briant (adaptation), Gregory La Cava (story)
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
W.C. Fields ... Elmer Finch
Marie Shotwell Marie Shotwell ... Mrs. Elmer Finch
Mary Brian ... Elizabeth Finch
Claude Buchanan Claude Buchanan ... Dave Harvey
Frederick Burton ... D.W. Harvey
Barnett Raskin Barnett Raskin ... Junior
Frank Evans Frank Evans ... Amos Barker
Edward Roseman Edward Roseman ... Arvo - the Hypnotist
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Storyline

Cowardly Elmer Finch is browbeaten by his wife, daughter, fat son and the family dog. After hypnosis he is domineering. He enters a contract with a fifteen-thousand dollar payoff, so his courage can last beyond the hypnosis. Written by Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Laughter has broken loose! Fields's funniest comedy, "Running Wild" is running first for comedy honors of the season. It's the hit of a lifetime. (Print Ad- Daily Times, ((Longmont, Colo.)) 2 December 1927) See more »

Genres:

Comedy

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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

11 June 1927 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Dans la peau du lion See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Paramount Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Silent

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Quotes

Elmer Finch: I'm a lion!
[intertitle]
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Connections

Featured in Hollywood: Star Treatment (1980) See more »

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User Reviews

 
This is not how I want to remember The Great Man
1 June 2005 | by wmorrow59See all my reviews

I first became interested in W.C. Fields in the late 1960s after seeing some of his movies on TV, and soon read all the books about him I could get my hands on. One thing I was dismayed to learn was that most of his silent movies were believed to be missing, including the bulk of the feature films he made at the Paramount-Astoria studio in New York in the late '20s. Happily, in the years since then a number of these films have been rediscovered, restored, and publicly screened. While it must be said that Fields was at a disadvantage in silent movies without his distinctive voice and delivery, two of the recovered works, It's the Old Army Game and So's Your Old Man, are generally pleasant and amusing, if not on par with his talkie classics. A third survivor, Running Wild, is in my opinion something of a misfire, however. Here the problem wasn't the lack of sound so much as an ill-conceived story for which Fields was not well suited, not to mention a sour tone that isn't much alleviated by the occasional flashes of humor.

Fields plays downtrodden Elmer Finch, the kind of timid soul who would have been called a "milquetoast" at the time, but would be called a wimp (or worse) today. Elmer lives in fear of his nasty wife and her son by an earlier marriage, a fat teenage boy who devotes all his time to tormenting his step-father and step-sister, Mary. (Mary is played by the gorgeous Mary Brian, perhaps best remembered as Wendy opposite Betty Bronson's Peter Pan.) Mrs. Finch and Junior openly express their contempt for Elmer, calling him a "boob" and a "sap," and the boy sics his dog on him. Where his career is concerned, things are no better. Elmer works as a low-level clerk at a toy manufacturing firm; he hasn't been promoted in twenty years and is considered a dunce, an opinion he confirms when he alienates an important client and thus loses a crucial account. Through a series of unlikely circumstances Elmer winds up on stage at a vaudeville show during a mesmerism act, and is hypnotized into believing that he is a "roaring lion." He escapes from the theater before the hypnotist can lift the spell, and, in a kind of angry daze, goes on a long-suppressed rampage, using brute force and intimidation to regain that important account for his firm, get promoted, frighten his wife into submission, and beat the living daylights out of his obese step-son.

Maybe this sounds like a satisfying wish-fulfillment scenario, but I found it unpleasant and only rarely amusing. Perhaps the main problem was that in the opening scenes Elmer Finch is so thoroughly degraded that, while we might pity him, he's too hapless to serve as a proper leading man, even in a comedy. It's not a joy to watch W.C. Fields play this character. In some of his later films Fields would surround himself with mean, grasping family members, and he'd sometimes play the henpecked husband, yet he learned to retain a shred of dignity and also to give indications of rebellion simmering underneath. But in this film Fields' character is so defeated it's dispiriting to see, and the first portion of the story dwells on Elmer's multiple humiliations to the point of masochism.

Once Elmer inadvertently becomes a "lion," however, the film trades masochism for sadism, and the time-honored satisfaction of watching a worm turn is dampened by the crude, violent behavior that marks his transformation. Now, instead of cringing, Elmer bellows at everyone, throws punches, calls the directors of his firm "numbskulls" and "fatheads," and generally behaves like a drunken bully. When he gets home he yells at his wife and then thrashes his step-son for no particular reason, just to show him who's boss. And yet Elmer's dazzled wife and daughter now call him "wonderful," and we're apparently meant to feel the same way. After Arno the Hypnotist finally shows up and removes Elmer's spell we're given to understand that he'll temper his behavior in the future while still being more assertive. Okay, but this last-minute promise doesn't leave us with much satisfaction, nor does it help that, when last seen, Elmer is once more chasing down Junior to deliver another thrashing.

In 1930 Harry Langdon made a two-reel version of this story called The Shrimp, and although Langdon was more suited to the material the problem with his remake is similar to the problem here: our protagonist swings between two extreme personalities, neither one of which is palatable. Running Wild has its moments, but over all it remains a failed attempt to exploit two facets of Fields' screen persona, the wimp and the blow-hard, without the leavening of his more attractive and endearing traits.


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