W. C. Fields' prolific career placed him at the forefront of slapstick comedy. Gathered here are six gems that feature the comic genius at his peak: The Golf Specialist, Pool Sharks (silent), The Pharmacist, The Fatal Glas... more »s of Beer, The Barber Shop, and, of course, the notorious The Dentist. This unique collection will delight new generations of viewers with Fields' hilariously sardonic routines.« less
"The quality on the previous release laser was great. With one MAJOR exception. The Dentist had added music!!! This is by and far my favorite sound short ( I have it on 16mm), Somehow Criterian was supplied a master that contains some really offensive "Cartoonlike" music at two different spots. Notice during the struggle with the block of Ice in the kitchen. Out of nowhere, this music "Invades" the scene. Likewise on the golf course. There was no music originally. I e-mailed the Pres. of Criterian and he said that he was un-aware of that but nothing could be done. I would have believed him if not for the fact i wrote a snail mail and personally called his company to complain shortly after the laser release, we'll over a year ago!!!! Very shoddy those people at Criterian. With that one small exception, this is a superb d.v.d. to own and is great historically and histerically. John"
Marvelous showcases for one of comedy's transcendent talents
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 09/10/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"W. C. Fields is universally regarded as one of the greatest and most influential comedians in the history of cinema, but apart from THE BANK DICK and perhaps NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK, his films are wildly inconsistent, with utterly delicious moments sandwiched with large hunks of what feels like filler to stretch the action out to the length of a feature film. Even in one of Fields's better films, like IT'S A GIFT (with possibly the greatest comeback line I have ever heard; upon being told that he is drunk, Fields retorts, "And you're crazy. But I'll be sober tomorrow and you'll be crazy the rest of your life."), the dull or bad completely outweighs the good. In most of his films, we wait through the dross to get to the nuggets of pure gold. This is why in many ways these short films by Fields are quite possibly the best way to ingest Fields. There are just as many funny moments as in the feature films, and not as long to wait between jokes.
Unfortunately, this is quite probably the worst disc that Criterion has ever produced. I give the disc five stars based on the quality of the material, but the execution of the disc is simply terrible. The prints all seem to be minimally restored, if at all. Worse, the titles and even the music sometimes seem to come from other decades. I am perplexed. Criterion usually sets the standards for quality restoration of classic films. If I was grading the execution of the disc rather than the shorts, I would give this one star.
POOL SHARKS-Probably the best known of Fields's many silent reels, and the most successful. Despite his extraordinary facility with props of all kinds, Fields's act on both stage and screen depended to a large extent on his voice. Seeing him in a silent film is like watching a magician without his patter. It is not entertaining, but it is also not exceptional, and exceptional is what Fields was at his best. It is remarkable to see how young Fields looked in it. He wouldn't become a major success until he was in his fifties, so that it is sometimes hard to think of him as having been young. The titles seem to have been added in the 1950s.
THE GOLF SPECIALIST shows Fields at his finest, with his superb gift in effortlessly manipulating props in full flower. The premise is absurdly simple: a petty crook masquerading as a gentleman is going to show an excessively flirtatious married woman how to play golf. Nearly the entire skit consists of Fields attempting to hit the ball for the first time, with one thing or another preventing his doing so.
THE DENTIST-This short is rendered less enjoyable than it ought to have been by a highly annoying score that harms the film by its presence. Ironically, it actually has more golf played in it than in THE GOLF SPECIALIST, and one of the clubs seems to have come from the previous short. The scene where he is pulling the tooth of a female patient is hysterical, but the quality of the print is bad near the beginning, and gets even worse near the end.
THE FATAL GLASS OF BEER-This is the best short in the collection, as well as being containing some of Fields's best work anywhere. There is no story to speak of: a pioneer in the Alaskan wilderness first sings a song about "The Fatal Glass of Beer" to a Monty in a cabin before dog sledding through the wilderness to his other, slightly more civilized cabin where his wife is. Their son returns after a three-year stint in prison. But all this is a pretext for a string of brilliant one-liners (including the immortal, "'T'aint a fit night out for man nor beast"), sight gags, and stunts. A classic.
THE PHARMACIST shows how crucial Fields was to these shorts. This is a very funny film, but replace him with virtually any other comedian and it would be bland and uninteresting. In a way, nothing truly funny happens except what Fields himself makes it so. I can watch and rewatch the scene where a man walks up and down the counter, with Fields attempting to entice him with his various offerings. There are no great one liners, nothing that one could repeat to another person and make them laugh. You literally have to be there in front of the screen, listening to Fields's voice, watching his face. In a way, this is by far the least funny of all of these shorts, because there is virtually nothing intrinsically funny about any part of it. But Fields performs his comic alchemy and produced gold.
THE BARBER SHOP-- Next to THE FATAL GLASS OF BEER, this is my favorite short of the bunch. Fields is at his best, and he gets off some great one liners and memorable comic bits, including a great one about a dog hoping for an ear to eat. One of the joys of any Fields film are the names of the characters, and this one has one of my favorites, the appropriately named Mrs. Broadbottom. Again, as in his other shorts, replace Fields and you have an absolutely average film. The film provides additional evidence that Fields is without doubt one of the most inherently funny individuals in the history of film. He probably would have had an audience in stitches merely reading a company's annual report."
Ken Doyle | Park Ridge, NJ USA | 10/03/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Please be aware that this DVD has the censored version of The Dentist with the cheezy music. This is what happens when people issue materal that they no nothing about."
Fields is an acquired taste
Ned K. Wynn | Northern California | 02/04/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"These short films starring W.C. Fields are, in their own right, classic comedies. Uneven, as some have pointed out, but classic in their own right. I believe that the problem some people have with Fields' sense of humor is that it is too dark and/or too adult for them. Fields was a spokesman for the common man, especially during the Depression. His comedy is subversive and sneaky. His complaining voice was recognized as the voice of the ordinary guy under the thumb of everyone and everything from his wife and mother-in-law, to dogs and children, to the rulers of the land and the very business he was in.
As a kid I did not "get" Fields at all. I didn't understand what he was doing, and I didn't think he was funny. I much preferred Laurel & Hardy (whom I still adore) and Charlie Chase whose humor was more obvious and accessible to me. I was annoyed by Fields' whining and complaining, didn't get the sarcastic asides, just did not like him at all.
As I grew older I began to understand what it was that Fields was doing. He was an original, a pioneer. From the late Sam Kinnison to Larry David and Seinfeld, there isn't a comic writer or performer who doesn't owe something to W.C. Fields. All the bitching and moaning you hear, especially from stand-ups, is nothing more than Fields brought into the modern era. He (and Mark Twain before him) spawned the sly and sarcastic wit of American comic dialogue long before it was commonly accepted or widely appreciated.
Make no mistake: Fields' humor masks real pain. What we hear in his whiny voice is the suffering of a man who can't catch a break to save himself. He is championing all the losers, the little guys, the nobodies, and if it sounds bitter at times, well...it is. I agree with some other reviewers here when they say that one must grow up and go through a certain amount of real-life experiences before Fields can truly be grasped and ultimately - if you're lucky - embraced. Otherwise you are better off with the Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers. Their worlds are completely unreal whereas Fields' world is all too real. It's a place to escape *from* not into, and what you hear from Fields' beaten-down characters is the sound of a man being dragged through a knothole backwards.
The City ain't no place for Women-Gals, but Pretty Men go Th
Archmaker | California | 03/28/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"To look at W.C.Fields in the context of his contemporaries is to be amazed at the fame and popularity of a character that was really quite subversive: he smoked, drank, cursed, avoided hard work, lied, scammed, detested marriage and family life, abused underlings, and held every politically incorrect attitude imaginable. The Fields persona was irrascible, blustery, grandiose, and prone to wrong assumptions; all the while being harrassed by nagging wives, bratty children, an obnoxious public, disparaging neighbors, ungrateful employers, and a world of troublesome machinery. He found solace in alcohol, pretty assistants, and usually an adoring older daughter. And he was damn funny doing it.
At first glance, hard to imagine such a character being widely popular in America of the 1920's, 30's, and 40's, but only if one falls into the periodic tendency of a large segment of American culture (perhaps all cultures!) to view the past through rose-colored glasses, finding a piety and propriety that never really existed. There has always been a anarchic and revolutionary spirit in American life that contradicts that propriety and more often than not found its best expression in humor. From the earliest pamphleteers, through newspaper columns and the comics page, on to Mark Twain, Will Rogers and the great pantheon of comics, commentators and comedians this lively antidote to stuffiness, self-importance and conventional wisdom has thrived.
In short, W.C. Fields while completely unique and unorthodox, was one of a company of Masters (that includes the Marx Brothers and Mae West at their best) adept at mocking the notions of propriety and what we would call "political correctness".
Others have provided the outlines of these short films, and I agree that two or three are minor, but to my mind there are 3 classics here that shouldn't be missed: The Fatal Glass of Beer, The Barber, and The Dentist.
What can you say about the completely nonsensical, nearly surreal first film? Well, as a verse from Fields dulcimer-accompanied song explains after his son takes the Fatal Glass:
"He met a Salvation Army girl, and wickedly he broke her tambourine, All she said was 'Heaven Loves You' and placed a mark upon his brow, With a kick she'd learned before she had been Saved!"
That and the curiously well aimed "Pop!" of snow in the face that accompanies the phrase "Tain't a fit night out for man nor beast!". You either find that funny or you don't.
And so on for The Barber, with the most excruciating shave imaginable and the begging dog waiting for more "scraps". And The Dentist with Fields daringly suggestive struggle to pull Elise Cavanna's tooth, the blonde bitten by the Dachsund ("You're lucky it wasn't a Newfoundland dog!") and the bearded gent with the elusive mouth ("And a very pretty thing too!") and fleeing birds.
There are several golf routines, one naturally in the Golf Specialist ("Never mind where I told you to stand! You stand where I tell you!") and in the Dentist, that are classic as well.
I have read the criticism of the DVD presentation, but even if extraneous music is present on The Dentist, these are the best transfers I've seen to date.
The great thing about humor is you can't fake it. It's either funny to you or it isn't. That is what makes recommending comedy so futile. What slays me may leave you cold. I find Fields irresistible, and his wonderfully anti-social persona not only hilarious but timeless. For that, this collection is treasured.