Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Um... Did You Save The Receipt?

It's A Gift is possibly the most unamusing comedy I ever did see. Moreover, it's completely uninteresting.

It's not even as if it's particularly offensive (although it is deeply misogynistic, but in a way that doesn't rile you up but more puts you into a coma; if such a thing seems impossible to you, you evidently haven't seen this). It's just dead. W.C. Fields, while not held up as a Chaplin or a Keaton, is still fairly well respected today, but on the basis of this I have no idea why. I know the film is simply built around comic setpieces for Fields to show off in, but for me to laugh at something that is riffing off a realistic situation, I need to believe the validity of the situation we're given. And since Fields is generally not depicted as a complete idiot (he generally seems to be ahead of the game, but just a victim of other's stupidity), I find it hard to believe he'd be so stubborn as to risk cutting his throat just because his daughter was using the bathroom mirror. Either WAIT, or ask the girl to MOVE. Don't position yourself on the back of a chair so that you almost fall on top of your blade.

And don't even get me started on the coconut that is actually a cannon ball.

I am not against old comedies. On the contrary, I find Chaplin and Keaton and the Marx Brothers and especially '30s screwball to be an utter delight and a welcome respite from what the Hollywood mainstream of today generally serves up for our delectation. (And now I sound like a snob. Hurrah.) But W.C. Fields- at least as far as It's A Gift demonstrates- is NOT funny. He's just a boorish fool who somehow ended up married to the 1930s American incarnation of Hyacinth Bucket (that's prounced Boo-Kay).

The thing is, really, that I see none of the virtuosity in Fields that his contemporaries- those aforementioned- demonstrate, either verbally or physically. (Supposedly he was a fantastic juggler. But he didn't juggle in this film. Not even with the coconut.) But compare to the Chaplin film I saw last week- The Rink- and we see Chaplin charm us with his (silent) chuckling and his rising hat effect, and wow us with his skating virtuosity. (I haven't even mentioned the way he walks. Like a penguin. I love it.) Buster Keaton takes my breath away with his dangerous stunts on the train track in The General. Groucho Marx (and sometimes Chico and Harpo too) has me on the floor with laughter with his wisecracking, clever gags. And Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn run around with a leopard and walk on the side of imaginary hills and I doubt anything can ever make me laugh as much as I am at that moment.

But all I got from Fields was him yelling at a blind man, trying to kill himself as he shaved, trying (and failing) to sleep at 5:00 in the morning (in the only neighbourhood that has a girl who is sent out to the shops at that time of day), and waving a pillow vaguely at a dog. (See? He can't even do that properly.)

And, after all that, he ends up a rich bugger relaxing on the sunny veranda of his orange grove. Life just isn't fair.

1 comment:

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