Combustible Celluloid
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With: W.C. Fields, Kathleen Howard, Jean Rouverol, Julian Madison, Tommy Bupp, Tammany Young, Baby LeRoy, Morgan Wallace, Charles Sellon, Josephine Whittell, Diana Lewis, Dell Henderson, T. Roy Barnes, Spencer Charters
Written by: Jack Cunningham, based on a play by J.P. McEvoy, and on a story by "Charles Bogle" (W.C. Fields)
Directed by: Norman McLeod
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 0
Date: 11/30/1934

It's a Gift (1934)

4 Stars (out of 4)

How About My Kumquats?

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This W.C. Fields talkie is, along with The Bank Dick (1940), considered his best and funniest film, and I wouldn't argue too much. Its comedy seems to be timeless; it cracked me up as I watched it again last night. Fields plays henpecked husband Harold Bissonette (there are many jokes about the pronunciation of this name), who works in a little grocery shop, puts up with a haranguing wife, Amelia (Kathleen Howard), a bratty, yappy son, Norman (Tommy Bupp), and a petulant teen daughter, Mildred (Jean Rouverol). He dreams of running an orange ranch in California, and when the news comes in of the death of his uncle, he has a chance to realize his dreams. Norman is happy to go, but Amelia opposes the idea, and Mildred is anguished about leaving her beau, John Durston (Julian Madison). Worse, John is the one who sold Harold the land, and having discovered that it's worthless, can't convince Harold otherwise.

The movie is based around a series of lengthy, brilliant comic set-pieces. In the store, a man loudly tries to order several pounds of kumquats, while Harold runs around trying and failing to prevent destruction by a blind man (Charles Sellon) and a baby (Baby LeRoy, a weirdly famous child star of his day who actually shares top billing with Fields). In another scene, the family unknowingly has a picnic on private property, leaving behind an amazing amount of trash; this was a gag Fields tested out earlier in his silent film It's the Old Army Game (1926). In one of the best sequences, his wife drives him to sleep on the front porch in a dilapidated swing, with an incredible series of hilarious annoyances keeping him awake. At the climax, the family arrives at the orange ranch, to find, indeed, a run-down shack and dried-up land, but everything still works out all right for the long-suffering Fields. He may have been a genius. ("Charles Bogle," who receives a story credit, was a pseudonym for Fields.)

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