Archive for December 20, 2017

Call security

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on December 20, 2017 by dcairns

Purchase of a second-hand edition of James Curtis’ biography of WC Fields, which I figured had to be interesting, and it is, led me to revisit THE BANK DICK.

OK, it’s not as good as IT’S A GIFT, but few things are.

I was struck by a gratuitous moment (there are many) of Fields entertaining some kids with cigarette tricks. Sticking a ciggie in his ear and exhaling smoke from his mouth is all very fine, and Fields would probably have been horrified to learn it’s the kind of thing Chaplin might do. Sticking the cigarette into the crevice between his cheek and the ala of his swollen nose is curiously repellent, implying the presence of some secret orifice possessed only by the Great Man.

Curtis tells us that the Breen Office warned that the character of J. Pinkerton Snoopington must not be depicted as camp or sissy, which must have been a note added after the casting of Franklin Pangborn was known. There’s nothing in the writing to imply homosexuality, indeed the character speaks of his wife and children, not that that proves anything. The order must have reached Pangborn, because in spite of the innate prissiness that’s an essential part of his comic armoury, he really doesn’t push it this time. Indeed, after Fields slips him a mickey, he’s so “straight,” not only sexually but dramatically, as to be quite pitiful, a sincere performance of a man experiencing calamitous ill-health, and Fields comes to seem pretty monstrous.

But this flexible approach to audience sympathy is typical of Fields, who vacillates between free-range misanthropy with himself in a protective bubble at the centre of the universe, and an all-encompassing loathing that begins at home, with the self. Maybe this is a consequence of Fields playing a character: “He’s me, so I’m on his side, but he’s also NOT me, so I detest the man.”