It’s A Gift

IT’S A GIFT—“You’re drunk!” scoffs an exasperated fellow. To which W.C. Fields, as insulted inebriate Harold Bissonette, ripostes “And you’re crazy. But I’ll be sober tomorrow and you’ll be crazy for the rest of your life.”

New Jersey grocer ‘Harold Bissonette’ (Fields) is henpecked to distraction by imperious wife ‘Amelia’ (former opera singer Kathleen Howard), tasked by neighbors including tot pest ‘Baby Elwood Dunk’ (two-year-old scene-stealer Baby LeRoy), and beset by an insurance flack looking for one ‘Carl LaFong’. Harold finds a possible way out when he gambles his inheritance dough on buying an “orange ranch” in the promised paradise of California. Wife, teen daughter (Jean Rouveral), young son (Tommy Bupp) and pillow-hating pooch in tow, Harold heads for the Golden State. It’s not the destination: it’s the journey.

Directed by Norman Z. McLeod, the screenplay for the laugh-chocked 68-minute skitfest/roadtrip is credited to Jack Cunningham but it’s really just a sound era arrangement of routines Fields had perfected earlier in his career, on the stage and in silents. Very funny, highlighting W.C.’s razor dexterity as a physical comic as well as providing good-natured pinching of everyday Americana. It has a sterling rep today, but actually didn’t do great business on release ($500,000 gross placed a lowly 172nd), likely due to W.C. overload—it followed four other Field’s releases that year—The Old-Fashioned Way, You’re Telling Me, Mrs. Wiggs and the Cabbage Patch and Six Of A Kindand these had been preceded by six the year before. *

With Morgan Wallace (as ‘Jasper Fithmueller’, who wants “kumquats“), Charles Sellon (sightless ‘Mr. Muckle’: leave it to Fields to get mirth from malady and not make you feel bad about it), Josephine Whittel and Diana Lewis (‘Mrs. Dunk’ & dimwit daughter ‘Betty’; their shopping discussion is priceless), T. Roy Barnes (salesman seeker of Carl LaFong). Character actor Chill Wills makes his first movie appearance as one of his singing group The Avalon Boys.

SALESMAN: “Do you know a man by the name of LaFong? Carl LaFong? Capital L, small a, Capital F, small o, small n, small g. LaFong. Carl LaFong.”   HAROLD: “No, I don’t know Carl LaFong – capital L, small a, capital F, small o, small n, small g. And if I did know Carl LaFong, I wouldn’t admit it!”  SALESMAN: “Well, he’s a railroad man and he leaves home very early in the morning.”  HAROLD: “Well, he’s a chump.”

* Director Norman Z. McLeod had nerve—he was a fighter pilot in WW1—but may also have carried a touch of masochism: besides Fields—in this, If I Had a Million and Alice In Wonderland—he somehow handled the Marx Brothers (Monkey Business and Horse Feathers), Danny Kaye (The Kid From Brooklyn and The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty) and Bob Hope (Road To Rio, The Paleface, My Favorite Spy, Casanova’s Big Night and Alias Jesse James). Next to those battles, dogfighting the Kaiser’s Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte must’ve seemed like a kite-fly.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s