Edward Cline’s The Bank Dick is pure W. C. Fields, full strength and undiluted in a movie that offers the legendary comedian the greatest opportunity he’d ever have to put his brand of comedy on the screen.
The Production: 5/5
Edward Cline’s The Bank Dick is pure W. C. Fields, full strength and undiluted. It’s the movie that offers the legendary comedian the greatest opportunity he’d ever have to put his brand of comedy on the screen, undeterred by co-stars like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Mae West, Charlie McCarthy, or Gloria Jean and with only the wisp of a plot to get in the way of his word play, sight gags, and other comic business. For some, its relentlessness amounts to overkill, but for Fields’ purists, this is nirvana.
Henpecked husband Egbert Sousé (W.C. Fields) likes nothing more than to spend his days at his local bar in Lompoc, the Black Pussy Cat Café earning pin money by entering contests and making wagers on horses. He even insinuates himself into a movie set on the way to the bar one morning spending a few frantic minutes directing a movie, but when he inadvertently tackles one of two escaping bank robbers with the bank’s stolen money, a grateful bank president Mr. Skinner (Pierre Watkin) offers him a job as a bank security officer (naturally subtracting part of his weekly salary to pay off his mortgage which he’s been negligent about paying). Con man J. Frothingham Waterbury (Russell Hicks) sees an opportunity to bilk Sousé and his future son-in-law Og Oggilby (Grady Sutton) out of $500 with some seemingly worthless bonds, so Og “borrows” $500 from the bank vault intending to repay it in four days when he is to get his bonus only to learn that the bank is due to be audited immediately by J. Pinkerton Snoopington (Franklin Pangborn), a man dedicated to his job. It’s up to Sousé to keep Snoopington from discovering the missing funds.
W.C. Fields himself penned the screenplay under another of his pseudonyms, Mahatma Kane Jeeves, and he’s included his usual array of characters: a nightmarish family (nagging wife Cora Witherspoon, abusive child Evelyn Del Rio, acerbic mother-in-law Jessie Ralph), a town full of eccentrics in look and/or name (Shemp Howard’s friendly bartender Joe is beyond question the sanest of the townsfolk), and a host of fine character comedians who can match Fields take for take and line for line (Franklin Pangborn, Grady Sutton, human skeleton Bill Wolfe). Sousé’s continual practice of interjecting himself into situations without being asked (to fix a broken engine, for example, or to replace a drunken director played by Jack Norton) might have nothing to do with the real story at hand, but these set pieces still make one rock with laughter, and his extended attempts to gaslight the bank auditor before he discovers the missing funds provide the center of the comedy for the movie. Director Edward Cline, himself a veteran of the Mack Sennett comedy school, brings that expertise to this film not only in the ridiculous movie directing sequence but also in the climactic car chase where hostage Sousé and the second bank robber who’s come back for another try run roughshod over the countryside pursued by bank personnel in one car and police in another. It’s a comic melee that caps the film’s nuthouse tone to perfection.
W.C. Fields might be moving a little slower and executing his sight gags with a little less snap than in earlier years (his severe alcoholism had allegedly begun to affect his timing, and he does appear much more aged than even the year before in You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man), but if you liked his blowhard, curmudgeonly character before, he’s still the same blustery Bill Fields here, too. Shemp Howard is basically wasted as the bartender, but both Grady Sutton and especially Franklin Pangborn get great comic chances as targets for Fields. Cora Witherspoon and Jessie Ralph make fine harridans for Fields to avoid, and Russell Hicks is suitably oily and unctuous as the fraudulent bond salesman. Jack Norton stumbles around in drunken splendor as the tipsy movie director, and Pierre Watkin does his dignified bank president proud. Una Merkel as Sousé’s older daughter who doesn’t always treat him like dirt also gets few chances here to shine, but her presence is always a positive in a film.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is suitably presented in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. While occasionally looking a bit digital, most of the image quality is top notch with appropriate grain structure and excellent detail in the imagery (it’s definitely sharp enough to discern that it’s a stunt driver rather than W.C. Fields behind the wheel in the location photography of the mad climactic chase). The very fine grayscale and nicely dialed-in contrast give this aged film a new burst of freshness. The movie has been divided into 8 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is exactly what you’d expect for a film of this vintage. The dialogue has been well-recorded and has been mixed nicely with the occasional burst of music cues and the frequent sound effects to make a pleasing aural experience. There are no problems at all with age-related hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter.
Special Features: 2/5
Audio Commentary: filmmaker and film historian Michael Schlesinger offers an entertaining, well researched commentary chock-full of information on almost everyone from the biggest stars to the tiniest bit players, the director, and some of the other behind-the-scenes personnel.
Theatrical Trailer (1:54, SD)
Kino Trailers: The Old Fashioned Way, You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man, My Little Chickadee, Road to Zanzibar.
Edward Cline’s The Bank Dick is primo W.C. Fields in one of his best ever films. The Kino Lorber high definition presentation offers another most welcome addition to its growing Fields library of comedy classics. Highly recommended!
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