26 user 12 critic

You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (1939)

Approved | | Comedy | 18 February 1939 (USA)
The owner of a debt-ridden circus contends with pursuant bill collectors and sheriffs and his beloved daughter's relationships with one of his performers and a stuffy but wealthy young man.


George Marshall, Edward F. Cline (uncredited)


George Marion Jr. (screen play), Richard Mack (screen play) | 2 more credits »




Complete credited cast:
W.C. Fields ... Larson E. Whipsnade
Edgar Bergen ... The Great Edgar
Charlie McCarthy ... Charlie
Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson ... Rochester (as Eddie Anderson)
Mortimer Snerd ... Mortimer
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 Blacaman ... Blacaman


Larson E. Whipsnade runs a seedy circus which is perpetually in debt. His performers give him nothing but trouble, especially Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Meanwhile, Whipsnade's son and daughter, Phineas and Vicky, attend a posh college. Vicky turns down her caddish but rich suitor Roger Bel-Goodie, but changes her mind when she learns of her father's financial troubles. Will Vicky marry for money or succumb to the ventriloqual charm of Edgar Bergen? Will Whipsnade's Circus Giganticus make it over the state line one jump ahead of the sheriff? Written by Rod Crawford <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




Approved | See all certifications »

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 »


Miss Sludge's cigarette changes length from scene to scene. It's also full length and unlit when she hits W.C. with it. Also, the fan in the background is on in some scenes of the ping-pong game, and off again - during the fast cuts. The sound of the ball bouncing in the fountain sometimes doesn't match the video - you hear it clinking in the cone when it's hovering at one point. See more »


Party Girl: All right, Phineas Whipsnade. But, let me tell you something: I'll never buy gas for your car again.
See more »

Crazy Credits

Edgar Bergen's dummy Charlie McCarthy is credited as Himself. See more »


Referenced in Shop Look & Listen (1940) See more »


Chicken Reel
See more »

User Reviews

"Somebody Took The Cork Out Of My Lunch"
23 July 2008 | by bkoganbingSee all my reviews

You Can't Cheat An Honest Man finds widower W.C. Fields running a second rate circus and trying to stay one step ahead of the law as he's creditors just about every place he goes. His children, John Arledge and Constance Moore attend a really posh Ivy League type school and you sympathize with Fields because you know this why he's probably not paying his bills. One also can speculate what his wife must have put up with back in the day.

Moore on a visit to Dad's show falls for the ventriloquist sideshow performer Edgar Bergen. But Bergen doesn't really get along with Fields or I should say his alter ego Charlie McCarthy doesn't.

The Fields-McCarthy feud was legendary on radio and it might seem hard to fathom how a ventriloquist could entertain on radio. But the characters he created were so powerful and had such a hold on the minds of the public that they were real. Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd were characters in their own right, they almost but not quite gained separate identities away from Edgar Bergen.

Anyway on Bergen's show, Bill Fields was a frequent guest and the repartee between Fields and McCarthy is still classic. Even without knowing that background, today's audience can still enjoy You Can't Cheat an Honest Man because the comedy is eternal.

There's not much of a plot except for Moore loving Bergen, but being ready to marry snobbish James Bush to help her father in his financial troubles. I'm sure you can figure out how that goes, especially when prospect in-laws Thurston Hall and Mary Forbes meet Fields at a little clambake they're throwing.

The circus offers a range of opportunity for some great gags including trying to pry Charlie McCarthy out of an alligator, an elephant who gives Fields showers on command and of course sawing Charlie in half during a magic act.

Still it's the repartee between Fields and Bergen and another of the unforgettable characterizations that Bill Fields brings us which makes You Can't Cheat An Honest Man a comedy classic.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 26 user reviews »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.






Release Date:

18 February 1939 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

A mí no me engaña nadie See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Universal Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Contribute to This Page

Recently Viewed