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Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941)

Passed | | Comedy, Musical | 10 October 1941 (USA)
A filmmaker attempts to sell a surreal script he has written, which comes to life as he pitches it.


Edward F. Cline (as Edward Cline)


John T. Neville (screen play), Prescott Chaplin (screen play) | 1 more credit »




Cast overview, first billed only:
W.C. Fields ... The Great Man
Gloria Jean ... Gloria
Leon Errol ... The Rival
Billy Lenhart Billy Lenhart ... Butch (as Butch)
Kenneth Brown Kenneth Brown ... Buddy (as Buddy)
Margaret Dumont ... Mrs. Hemogloben
Susan Miller ... Ouilotta Hemogloben
Franklin Pangborn ... The Producer
Mona Barrie ... The Producer's Wife
Charles Lang ... Pete Carson
Anne Nagel ... Madame Gorgeous
Nell O'Day ... The Salesgirl
Irving Bacon ... The Soda Jerk
Jody Gilbert ... The Waitress
Minerva Urecal ... The Cleaning Woman
Learn more

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A small country on the verge of bankruptcy is persuaded to enter the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics as a means of raising money. Either a masterpiece of absurdity or a triumph of satire, ... See full summary »

Director: Edward F. Cline
Stars: Jack Oakie, W.C. Fields, Andy Clyde


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 <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


IT'S A FIELDS-DAY OF FUN! (original poster-all caps) See more »


Comedy | Musical


Passed | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


W. C. Fields wanted to call the film "The Great Man." When Universal executives insisted on the title "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break" (taken from the end of his previous film "Poppy"), Fields said, "What does it matter, they'll never get that on a marquee. It'll probably boil down to 'W. C. Fields - Sucker.'" See more »


At the drug store the register changes from 10 cents to no sale, back to 10 cents and finally 15. Also at the end of the scene the soda jerk has a fly crawling down his face, but when he hits it with a bottle the fly is gone. See more »


The Great Man: I fell out of an airplane whilst trying to retrieve a bottle of golden nectar. And lyin' in on the pinnacle of yonder rock, where is domiciled a vision of loveliness, if ever there was one. And her mother, a buzzard if ever there was one.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The film opens with W. C. Fields' credit as star over a cartoon caricature of him. Then the chest of the character expands to bloated proportions, and the title of the film is printed on Fields' huge cartoon chest. See more »


Referenced in Head (1968) See more »


Written by Charles Previn
Sung by Gloria Jean
See more »

User Reviews

Wonderful Satire of the Movie Industry
5 December 2006 | by aimless-46See all my reviews

The VHS version of "Never Give a Sucker An Even Break" (1941), at least the one from MCA Home Video, is an especially nice print; considerably better than their "It's a Gift" issue. There should be a DVD out by mid-2007 but since the original film is full screen format there is little to gain by waiting on the DVD.

This was W. C. Field's version of Altman's "The Player" (which it inspired), in which Fields applied the lessons of a lifetime to satirizing the movie industry. It's not as light-hearted nor as structured as his earlier features, but makes an especially appropriate swan song for a performer whose health was failing, whose attitude was bad, and whose style of wry humor and subtle sight gags was being replaced by the slapstick of Laurel and Hardy, the Three Stooges, and The Marx Brothers (Fields self-reflectively references Groucho's mustache when the cleaning lady holds a push broom near his face).

Like Altman (but for very different reasons) Fields had not endeared himself to the Hollywood establishment. He could only get his screenplay into production by agreeing to use it as a showcase for newcomer Gloria Jean (being deservedly groomed as the next Judy Garland- Deanna Durbin).

So in his last staring role Fields simply plays himself pitching his original script to a producer at Esoteric Pictures. Gloria Jean also plays herself, the only fictional element being that Fields is supposed to be her Uncle Bill. Field's involved pitch goes back and forth between a discussion of the script with the producer (Frank Pangborn) and his wife (Mona Barrie), and the imagined final cut of the scene they are discussing. Barrie was an incredible talent and is the one to watch in the office sequences. She plays an aloof Kate Beckinsale type actress who Fields must somehow insert into his film even though there is no character even remotely suitable. So you get the classic sequence of Fields proposing that she wear a beard in order to play the male lead, and Barrie's mostly nonverbal reactions sell the whole routine.

Of course all this is a reflection of the Hollywood reality, where many scripts only made it into production because they featured a big part for an executive's wife/girlfriend or for a particular star that the studio was anxious to feature. Another great self-reflective moment occurs when the producer complains about the continuity problems in Field's script; not just an industry issue but the basic premise of "Never Give a Sucker An Even Break".

Ironically, Gloria Jean has a lot of charm and surprisingly good chemistry with Fields; their scenes together allow him to exhibit a refreshingly pleasant side to his standard character. Her songs are all nicely done (if somewhat awkwardly inserted) and the movie within a movie technique provides an almost documentary behind the scenes look at film production techniques 65 years ago. Susan Miller supplements Gloria Jean's numbers with a fun jive arrangement of "Coming Through the Rye".

The climax features the most entertaining car chase sequence in movie history. It had to all be staged because there were no computer-generated effects in those days.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

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Release Date:

10 October 1941 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Great Man 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 »

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