Sunday, January 2, 2011

Norman Z. McLeod - It's a Gift (1934)

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die wrote:
Undoubtedly the finest of all W.C. Field's comedies, It's a Gift may not offer the inspired insanity of such waywardly surreal gems as Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941) or the unforgettable short The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933), but it is certainly the most coherent and most consistently funny of his features.

W.C. Fields and 'It's a Gift,' at the Roxy Theatre -- 'Kentucky Kernels,' at the Palace.
Perhaps if the W. C. Fields idolaters continue their campaign on his behalf over a sufficient period of years his employers may finally invest turn with a production befitting his dignity as a great artist. In the meantime such comparatively journeyman pieces as "It's a Gift" will serve very adequately to keep his public satisfied. Although the Roxy's new Fields picture is seldom equal in comic invention to the master's possibilities, it does keep him on the screen almost continuously, and it permits him to illuminate the third-rate vaudeville katzenjammer of the work with his own quite irresistible style of humor. To the student of comedy who is able to tell a great funnyman from a merely good one that is a way of saying that "It's a Gift" is the first "must" assignment of the new year.

You ought to he informed that the slightly phoney name of Charles Bogle, which appears among the credits as the author of the story, is really Mr. Fields himself, lurking modestly in the corridors of Paramount's Writers' Row. This time he is the vague and fumbling Mr. Bissonette, who is the proprietor of a small-town general store, as well as the helpless victim of a shrewish wife. "It's a Gift" tells how Mr. Bissonette, after being badgered and hounded beyond his generous powers of endurance, finally boards a rattletrap flivver with his family and sets off across the country to a California orange plantation which he has purchased with the proceeds of his late uncle's will.

That is approximately a skeleton of the narrative, and as usual it is singularly useless as a guide to Mr. Fields's behavior. "It's a Gift" immerses the beery, adenoidal and bulbous-nosed star in a variety of situations which he promptly embroiders into priceless and classic comic episodes. You find him torturing the laws of logic and gravitation in his efforts to shave himself while being annoyed by his young daughter. There is the extended account of his futile struggles to catch some sleep on the porch after he has been driven from his bed-room by Mrs. Bissonette's constant nagging. With the one exception of Charlie Chaplin, there is nobody but Mr. Fields who could manage the episode with the blind and deaf man in the store so as to make it seem genuinely and inescapably funny instead of just a trifle revolting. Then, with Baby LeRoy for his straight man, he goes quite mad during the infant's extensive operations in the store, finally closing up shop in despair and leaving behind him a sign explaining that the store is closed on account of molasses.

The great man's assistants in the new comedy provide him with excellent foils. As the nagging wife Kathleen Howard is so authentic as to make Mr. Fields's sufferings seem cosmic and a little sad despite their basic humor. As the thick-witted grocery clerk, Tammany Young is an effective lunkhead, and Charles Sellon, as the blind man, is quite as irresistible as he was last month as the wheel-chair invalid in "Bright Eyes." The fact is that Mr. Fields has come back to us again and "It's a Gift" automatically becomes the best screen comedy on Broadway.
Andre Sennwald, NY Times, January 5, 1935
no pass