Critical Moments

The subject of this morning’s essay is W. C. Fields and the inspiration is his latest picture, “It’s a Gift,” now current at the Roxy Theatre. Before going into the intricacies of this exposition, I must cell you “It’s a Gift” must receive serious consideration as one of the #unniest films of the new year. If comedy such as this is to become the standard of 1935 we are in for some heavy and hearty laughter.

W. C. Fields is one of the old#imers. For many years his antics on the vaudeville stage kept audiences throughout the country in a constant uproar. But when #audeville declined Fields found fewer and fewer outlets for his comedy and about three or four years ago discovered he was an actor without a public. Motion pictures beck#ned rather coyly. He was expected to start as though he were a beginner.

Directors could see little possibilities in his type of humor. Fields knew his own worth and refused to go West until he was assured of a real chance. It finally came, but not until half a dozen Broadwayites who had gone to Hollywood had practically insisted upon getting Fields a tryout. The #est you know—within two years he has become one of the best box-office attractions in the business.

PANTOMIME…

As a comedian W. C. Fields has demonstrated that not even the talkies have made pantomime impossible. Unlike many of the {SPAN}al#eged{/SPAN} funny men, Fields is not dependent upon the story written for him. Certainly “It’s a Gift” has little in the way of a plot. It concerns a hen-pecked grocer and his dream of an orange ranch in California. With his ever-talking wife and two children he sets out in an automobile for the promised land and arrives there only to find that his ranch is a barren spot, but a “wish-fulfilment” ending is added to the story and Fields, who plays the role of the grocer, gets even more than he had expected.

What places Fields so far above his contemporaries is his keen sense of the ridiculous. Give him a situation such as trying to shave in a crowded washroom without a mirror and he is able to squeeze out the last drop of humor; or show him trying to get a night’s sleep in a din-ridden house and again his dire unhappiness is turned into farce that will bring smiles even to a “bluenose.” Fields has the magic touch. His blundering, fumbling inability to do such simple tasks as lighting a cigar, starting an automobile or even drinking a cup of coffee makes us all feel so warmly superior.

OPPORTUNITY BECKONS

As I intimated, the plot of “It’s a Gift” is thin stuff, but it enables Fields to be on the screen almost constantly and there is never a moment when you become tired of him. One of these days a real script will be given the great comedian and then you will have a really memorable picture, something that will equal Chaplin at his best.

Aiding Mr. Fields in “It’s a Gift” you will find Kathleen Howard, who as the nagging wife helps make Fields’ actions justifiable. Baby LeRoy is also in the cast but he adds very little to the general hilarity.

STAGE NOTES

Last night’s openings included Zoe Atkins’ “The Old Maid” (Empire), with Judith Anderson and Helen Menken. This play is an adaptation of Edith Wharton’s novel and was staged by Guthrie McClintic. The other event of the evening was the return of Leslie Howard to the stage in a play by Robert Sherwood called “The Petrified Forest.” Gilbert Miller and Howard, in association with Arthur Hopkins, were the sponsors. It was Howard’s first stage appearance since “Another Language.”

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