THE OLD FASHIONED WAY mirrors that wistful title three times over. Coming out in 1934 it’s obviously a relic of the early sound era. The nostalgic setting of the scenario is 1897, when theatrical companies roamed the land, bringing entertainment and dabs of quick-fix culture to small towns as well as cities. And among its offerings the troupe performs scenes from “The Drunkard”, a hugely popular play from the 1840’s. The chief reason this oldie still holds a smile quotient is because it stars W.C. Fields as “The Great McGonigle’, the bombastic manager/hustler of the crew. Along with his usual sly asides, peppered this time with the extravagant lingo of yore, and razor-honed physical clowning, he offers a classic scene that showcases his juggling skills, alone enough a treat to warrant patience through the more dated material like the tacked-on love story jazz and some wincing warbling.
‘She’s all dressed up like a well-kept grave.”
Always one step ahead of creditors and/or the local authorities, The Great McGonigle tries to keep his cash-starved cast on the road. They include his daughter (Judith Allen, 23—she did nine films that year), her suitor (Joe Morrison) and McGonigle’s loyal assistant ‘Marmaduke Gump’ (Fields’ team player Tammany Young). As love and the law close in on his footloose fiefdom, can The Great out-feint fate? “Drat!”
Directed by the phenomenally prodigious William Beaudine, the script by Garnett Weston and Jack Cunningham riffed off story material from ‘Charles Bogle’, a Fields pseudonym. A time capsule of a time capsule, the silliness grossed $700,000, which was 147th place for the year. But that’s hardly bad considering there were 531 features released in ’34; this picture’s studio Paramount alone had 55, with five of ’em starring W.C.
One hour and 12 minutes, with Baby LeRoy, Jan Duggan (as ‘Cleopatra Pepperday’) and Nora Cecil (a frequent Fields foil, she did 19 parts in ’34 alone). The juggling routine—balls, canes and cigar boxes—a Fields specialty from vaudeville, is priceless, and this is the only filmed record of the act.