Classic comedy with Mae West and W.C. Fields has never looked better. 3.5 Stars

Two icons of the silver screen, Mae West and W.C. Fields, have a showdown that ends in a draw in Edward Cline’s My Little Chickadee, a western comedy which works individually for each of its stars but fails to do much of anything with them as a team.

My Little Chickadee (1940)
Released: 15 Mar 1940
Rated: Passed
Runtime: 83 min
Director: Edward F. Cline
Genre: Comedy, Western
Cast: Mae West, W.C. Fields, Joseph Calleia, Dick Foran
Writer(s): Mae West (original screen play), W.C. Fields (original screen play)
Plot: After a scandal runs a gold-digger out of town, she meets a con artist and becomes embroiled in a string of petty deceits.
IMDB rating: 6.9
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Universal
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 23 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 06/29/2021
MSRP: $24.95

The Production: 3.5/5

Two icons of the silver screen, Mae West and W.C. Fields, have a showdown that ends in a draw in Edward Cline’s My Little Chickadee, a western comedy which works individually for each of its stars but fails to do much of anything with them as a team. Perhaps it was all for the best: the two stars had different approaches to their work that weren’t at all simpatico, so it was probably easier to let each do his or her own thing and then slap their work together to make a ramshackle if still very entertaining comedy.

Flower Belle Lee (Mae West) is run out of Little Bend after town gossip Mrs. Gideon (Margaret Hamilton) sees her having a midnight assignation with a masked bandit who’s been robbing local stages of gold and valuables. Having been told she’ll have to marry to gain a respectable reputation anywhere in the west, Flower Belle gets a charlatan friend of hers (Donald Meek) to “marry” her to loafing gambler Cuthbert J. Twillie (W.C. Fields) whom she’ll use as a necessary means to an end until she can discover the identity of her masked marauder. In Greasewood City, local town boss Jeff Badger (Joseph Calleia) proposes Twillie as the town’s new sheriff, but newspaper editor Wayne Carter (Dick Foran) thinks that’s a quick road to widowhood for Flower Belle, something no one, excepting Twillie himself, has any problem with.

Stars Mae West and W.C. Fields are given screen credit for the screenplay, but West always maintained that she wrote the script and left spaces for Fields to insert his own improvisations. The two didn’t much get along, so they share very few scenes together. A honeymoon night where Flower Belle substitutes a goat for herself in bed is probably the funniest of their escapades together (unless one counts an Indian attack on the train where Twillie fumbles with various hats and a slingshot and Flower Belle picks the Indians off in quick succession). Individually, Fields gains the upper hand as he goes through his familiar paces drinking everything in sight, even substituting for the local bartender one night as he recounts to customers his various exploits tending bar and cheating at cards so proficiently that he’s thrown in jail and ultimately faces a lynch mob once they’re led to believe he’s the masked bandit. As for Mae West, she lets herself down in the one sequence which had all the potential earmarks of an all-time classic. After writing that stupendous courtroom scene in I’m No Angel where she runs roughshod over judge, jury, lawyers, and witnesses, she has an equal chance here to do something really special taking over a schoolroom of rowdy older boys and teaching them a thing or two about education (or other topics). Instead, she throws out a couple of tired witticisms and ends very quickly on a blackout with almost no humor to be had. It seems like a terrible missed opportunity. Veteran comedy director Edward Cline was pretty adept at handling Fields which is likely why his scenes play funnier and seem more on point than the scenes with West. And, of course, there is that sensational final sequence where each star mimics the other letting us know it was all in fun. The final joke with “The End” superimposed over West’s derriere seems to have gotten past the censors to give us one final little jab.

Mae West looks very nice in a succession of Vera West (no relation) gowns, and, of course, it wouldn’t be a Mae West picture without at least one song; here’s it’s “Willie of the Valley” by Milton Drake and Ben Oakland which she croons in her inimitable purr. It’s quite ironic that after she and Marlene Dietrich both appeared on that infamous list of box-office poison stars in 1938, they each chose a western to re-establish herself on the screen: Dietrich in Destry Rides Again and West with My Little Chickadee (which used the leftover sets from Destry). W.C. Fields jostles with dozens of props: umbrella, a succession of hats, cards, and bottles and later takes a hilarious tumble into a bath where (we have to assume) a stunt man scrubs down his legs without using his hands. His wonderful succession of quips and business would reach their apex in his next project at Universal, The Bank Dick. Joseph Calleia does right by bad boy Jeff Badger, and Dick Foran does his thing with good boy Wayne Carter though the identity of the masked bandit is really never in question. Margaret Hamilton plays her busybody harpy with the professionalism we expect from her, and scattered through the cast are familiar faces like Ruth Donnelly, Donald Meek, Fuzzy Knight, and Jackie Searl.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio has been faithfully rendered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Universal has done a sensational job cleaning this film into a spotless beauty with not a speck of dust or dirt to be seen and with impressively deep black levels and crisp whites to make the grayscale pop. Contrast has been dialed in to perfection. The movie has been divided into 8 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix offers very strong fidelity for so aged a movie. Dialogue has been professionally recorded, and it has been mixed superbly with Frank Skinner’s background score and the many sound effects present into a seamless whole. There are no problems with age-related anomalies like hiss, crackle, pops, and flutter.

Special Features: 2/5

Audio Commentary: film historians Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson spend almost the entirety of their commentary celebrating the career and life of Mae West, quoting extensively from books and articles which proclaim her uniqueness. W.C. Fields, Margaret Hamilton, Joseph Calleia, and director Edward Cline are barely mentioned in passing, and the making of My Little Chickadee and its place in the cinema of its day or today doesn’t rate too much attention.

Theatrical Trailer (1:36, SD)

Kino Trailers: Night After Night, I’m No Angel, Belle of the Nineties, Goin’ to Town, Every Day’s a Holiday

Overall: 3.5/5

While Edward Cline’s My Little Chickadee may not rank as a top flight comedy of its time, the participation of Mae West and W.C. Fields in it can’t be overlooked or underestimated. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray release is by far the best the movie has ever looked on home video, and fans of the film and its two illustrious stars will not want to be without it.

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Published by

Matt Hough

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sbjork

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A W.C. Fields title sporting a 5/5 in presentation is something I’d never thought I’d get to see. Cannot wait!
It's really, really gorgeous. For a transfer which used a fine grain print and a dupe negative for its elements, you will be amazed at the amount of fine detail which is visible in many shots. The cinematography uses diffusion filters occasionally and there are opticals which also look softer, but that's not the fault of the transfer. I was most impressed by a closeup of the card that Fields gives to West -- it's a locked off shot, so it is rock stable, and not only is the detail of the texture of his gloves and the paper clearly visible, but you can even see the minute deformation of the paper due to the stamped printing.
 

sbjork

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Mine along with She Done Him Wrong, I'm No Angel, Klondike Annie and Go West Young Man has arrived in my city. I hope to have them today, but UPS might transfer them over to USPS which means a Thursday delivery.
I received I'm No Angel a few days ago, but probably won't even have a chance to pop it in to take a look. Among other things, Dr. Jones finally landed on my doorstep. But if Angel looks even half as good as My Little Chickadee, it will still be a great disc.
 

Matt Hough

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I'm trying to decide which of the five movies to watch first.
I can't advise in terms of the transfers since I didn't get all of those to review, but for the essence of pure Mae: I'm No Angel. For a cracking good time: My Little Chickadee, especially if you're a Fields fan (and the transfer is the best of the West films I reviewed).
 

Robert Crawford

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I can't advise in terms of the transfers since I didn't get all of those to review, but for the essence of pure Mae: I'm No Angel. For a cracking good time: My Little Chickadee, especially if you're a Fields fan (and the transfer is the best of the West films I reviewed).
I got my Blu-rays on Thursday so I'm probably going to watch Mae's two movies with Cary Grant first then followed them up with My Little Chickadee.
 

David Weicker

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I read your comments on those first two. Looking forward to seeing what you have to say about Chickadee.
My copy if My Little Chickadee is delayed. One of the other titles I included in the order (to get it past the free shipping threshold) is currently Backordered (it was In Stock when I ordered back in April)
 

Josh Steinberg

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My copy came yesterday and although it was way too late at night for a movie by the time I had a chance to sit down, I put it in anyway. I’ll need to rewatch it when fully awake but my immediate impression was one of awe - I’ve never, ever seen a W.C. Fields film look as good as this does now. First time I ever saw it was from a worn 35mm print decades ago, and then VHS and then DVD - what a difference between those older sources and the new BD. I’m over the moon thrilled at what I’m seeing.
 

Robert Crawford

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I read your comments on those first two. Looking forward to seeing what you have to say about Chickadee.
My copy came yesterday and although it was way too late at night for a movie by the time I had a chance to sit down, I put it in anyway. I’ll need to rewatch it when fully awake but my immediate impression was one of awe - I’ve never, ever seen a W.C. Fields film look as good as this does now. First time I ever saw it was from a worn 35mm print decades ago, and then VHS and then DVD - what a difference between those older sources and the new BD. I’m over the moon thrilled at what I’m seeing.
I watched the My Little Chickadee Blu-ray in its entirety and it does indeed looked tremendous on my 55" OLED. Thanks to Scorsese and Spielberg for providing the funding for this 4K restoration.
 

OLDTIMER

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Although I have the UK region 2 DVD which looks pretty good, I just ordered the Blu-ray on the strength of the comments above. Universal can do a fine job of their old black-and-white movies. Witness the early Frankenstein and Dracula Blu-rays.
 

Josh Steinberg

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This is simply incredible - it blows the old DVD (which was pretty good too) out of the water. It’s a full on 4K digital restoration done by the Film Foundation and it now looks like a brand new film. I’m surprised that they’re not advertising that part of it more. This is one of those that looks so unexpectedly good that you just want to shout it from the rooftops until everyone gets a copy. For me, based on the restoration quality alone, this is the catalog title to beat in 2021. I’ve now watched it three times and I couldn’t be happier.
 

sbjork

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This is simply incredible - it blows the old DVD (which was pretty good too) out of the water. It’s a full on 4K digital restoration done by the Film Foundation and it now looks like a brand new film. I’m surprised that they’re not advertising that part of it more. This is one of those that looks so unexpectedly good that you just want to shout it from the rooftops until everyone gets a copy. For me, based on the restoration quality alone, this is the catalog title to beat in 2021. I’ve now watched it three times and I couldn’t be happier.
Yeah, when I was reviewing the disc, I hadn't looked up any details about so I was shocked at how good that it looked until I read the restoration details at the end of the movie. If you check out Kino's web page, they don't even mention anything about the 4K restoration. They should be shouting it from the hills.