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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


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 FIELDS' FUNNIEST FILM...and funniest funsters! (original print ad) See more »


Comedy | Musical


Passed | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


In the soda-shop scene, Fields turns to the camera and announces that the scene was supposed to have been filmed in a saloon "but the censor cut it out". He was telling the truth. 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: [Discussing his proposed script] In a circus scene you wear a beard.
The Producer's Wife, Mrs. Pangborn: I wear a beard?
The Great Man: Yeah, a small beard - a van dyke. Just a little... You know what a van dyke is, don't you?
The Producer's Wife, Mrs. Pangborn: I certainly do!
The Great Man: Ooh.
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 »


(1912) (uncredited)
Written by Manuel M. Ponce
Sung by Gloria Jean
See more »

User Reviews

Chickens have pretty legs in Kansas
21 November 2005 | by theowinthropSee all my reviews

It was W.C. Fields' last lead role in a film - and his last knock at the system that gave him immortality. In THE BANK DICK Fields took several aims at making movies - from his drunken film director A Pismo Clam to his screenplay that was better than GONE WITH THE WIND (which he actually does sell at the end of the film). But there were many targets in THE BANK DICK. NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK is a film about making movies. Fields is trying to sell his next picture to Esoteric Pictures, which is run by Franklin Pangborn. The crazy story line begins with him proudly seeing an advertisement billboard for THE BANK DICK, only to find two little brats razzing it. He and his niece, Gloria Jean, are both trying to get into business with Esoteric, and Pangborn is actually willing to sign up Gloria Jean - but she slaps him when he bad mouths her Uncle Bill. We see a rehearsal at Esoteric for Gloria Jean, and see the incongruities of the studio system when Pangborn, carried away by the music, finds himself also carried away by two actors dressed as Nazi soldier goose stepping. So it goes throughout the film, even ending with a mad car chase to get a woman to her destination - except she is taken to a maternity hospital that she did not want to go to. But, as THE BANK DICK showed, all comedies should end with a mad chase.

There are references to other comics in the film, especially Fields' rivals the Marx Brothers. His interview with Pangborn is interrupted by Madame Pastrami, the cleaning lady - whom an angry Fields calls "a Groucho Marx" (actually she's a "Chico"). And the leading lady he tries to romance for her money in his film - Mrs. Hemoglobin - is none other than Margaret Dumont, Groucho's usual girlfriend. Field's past with Ziegfeld is brought in too (although not his film career it led to his film career). His rival for Miss Dumont is Leon Erroll, his old fellow Ziegfeld comic. One also wonders if the Marxes and Ziegfeld are the only references thrown in. The incongruous appearance of an ape on top of Mrs. Hemoglobin's mountain retreat is similar to the ape on the swinging rope bridge in the alps in Laurel & Hardy's SWISS MISS.

The film lacks structure, so it is not as well received as THE BANK DICK, IT'S A GIFT, of THE OLD FASHIONED WAY. But Field's crazy script raises an issue - do we really need structure to enjoy a funny film? Years before Monty Python discovered that a sketch did not need to reach a logical conclusion to be successful, Fields demonstrated it in this full length film. He finds structure a nuisance. Look at how he openly tells the audience that his sequence in an ice cream parlor should have been in a bar. And the audience appreciates the hint.

Nothing has to be straightforward, because we understand that everything means something else. Fields sings of chickens and their legs in Kansas, and we realize that the song is not about poultry, but about the legs of pretty ladies (like the stewardesses who smile while he sings). The film flows on, making a mockery of film making but celebrating it at the same time.

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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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