Sunday, September 2, 2012

153. IT'S A GIFT (1934)

Norman McLeod's IT'S A GIFT is commonly regarded as W.C. Fields' best movie. I'm not entirely sure that it is, some others seem better rounded, but its reputation likely has something to do with its purity: there's no teenage love story shoehorned into this, no second-billed celebrity guest stars, and it's not based on a famous novel or anything. It's just an unabashed collection of brilliant comic sketches on the theme of the age-old war between Man and Wife and Man and Life. "You all gotta remember one thing: I am the boss of this house!" whispers Harold Bissonette (Fields) to his selfish daughter Mildred (Jean Rouverol), lest his domineering wife Amelia (Kathleen Howard) overhear. He's barely able to run his own dry goods store, which a single customer -- the blind and deaf Mr. Muckle (Charles Sellon) -- manages to reduce to a shower of shattered glass before Baby Dunk (Baby LeRoy) and his inept help (Tammany Young) render it temporarily "Closed on Account of Molasses." Able to anoint his embattled pride only by spreading a false rumor that his surname should be pronounced "Bis-o-nay," Harold dreams of getting rich someday and settling down in California orange grove -- a plan his wife staunchly opposes. But when wealthy relative Uncle Bean kicks the bucket, he pays cash on the barrelhead for a California grove he's never seen and the family pack up and head west.

So many funny moments: Fields trying to shave 100 different ways while his teenage daughter hogs the bathroom mirror; the boistrous-voiced store customer who wants to buy ten pounds of kumquats; the kitchen table banter; and especially the extended tour de force sequence of Fields trying to get some sleep on a precarious porch swing, an endeavor serially thwarted by various passers-by (one in search of a certain LaFong, Carl LaFong), a coconut, gabby neighbors, a squeaky laundry line, and gravity. "'Tis not a night for life," he sings to himself while preparing his lonely bed, "'tis not a night for love." Rare is the man who can't see himself in this.

Viewed on an import Universal DVD. 

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