Sunday, November 26, 2023

The NFR Project: W.C. Fields in 'So's Your Old Man' (1926)

 So’s Your Old Man

Dir: Gregory La Cava

Scr: Howard Emmett Rogers, Tom J. Geraghty, J. Clarkson Miller, Julian Johnson

Pho: George Webber

Ed: George Block, Julian Johnson

Premiere: Oct. 26, 1926

67 min.

W.C. Fields is remembered today as the ultimate flim-flam man, the sly and cynical popper of pretension and dysfunction around him. However, the comedian had one other personality that he displayed in his films – that of the put-upon everyman.

This character is on display, front and center, in this film early in his career. Fields was already a respected juggler and comic artist on stage, but he longed to be in the movies as well. This, his first feature film, gives us the first hints of traits that would define Fields – his fondness for alcohol and his allergy to regular work.

Poor small-towner Sam Bisbee is a would-be inventor who is generally despised by his community for having little couth. His family, too, fails to respect him. He does invent shatter-proof automobile glass, but due to a car mix-up, he loses the chance to impress a bunch of automobile manufacturers. He ponders suicide on his way home, but rejects it . . . then he runs across a beautiful young woman who he suspects wants to end her life as well. She doesn’t, but his kindness makes her want to help him. Being a princess, she uses her influence to make Sam a respected citizen and family man again.

Naturally, Sam doesn’t believe the woman’s royal status, and he looks on her efforts to rehabilitate as part of a bigger scam. That he goes along willingly with the apparent deception speaks to his contempt for the shallow and judgmental society that has kept him down up to that point. Bisbee is happy to put one over on the town. He gets a happy ending, deserved or not.

Shoehorned into the film is the long golfing sketch that Fields had already perfected on stage. As such, it is a valuable documentation of his routine. His battle with recalcitrant objects is a textbook display of the art of slow-boil comedy.

All in all, an excellent initial outinggreat for the comedy . (Fun fact: the famous Roaring 20’s illustrator John Held Jr. did the title illustrations.) The premise was successful; so much so that the film was remade with Fields for sound as You’re Telling Me! In 1934.

 The NFR is one writer’s attempt to review all the films listed in the National Film Registry in chronological order. Next time: The Son of the Sheik.