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Above average W.C. Fields comedy 3.5 Stars

The cagey, charlatan version of W.C. Fields is front and center in William Beaudine’s The Old Fashioned Way, perhaps not the best of Fields’ many comedies but one which offers views of the great comedian not found in his other flicks.

The Old Fashioned Way (1934)
Released: 13 Jul 1934
Rated: Passed
Runtime: 71 min
Director: William Beaudine
Genre: Comedy
Cast: W.C. Fields, Joe Morrison, Baby LeRoy
Writer(s): Garnett Weston, Jack Cunningham, W.C. Fields
Plot: The Great McGonigle and his troupe of third-rate vaudevillians manage to stay one step ahead of the bill collectors and the sheriff.
IMDB rating: 7.4
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. 11 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 11/09/2021
MSRP: $24.95

The Production: 3.5/5

William Beaudine’s The Old Fashioned Way offers us the alternative W.C. Fields to his usual henpecked husband. Here, he’s a charlatan through and through albeit a lovable one. Nevertheless, it presents to us the W.C. Fields we love: blustering about full of his own self-importance but fooling very few around him, falling victim to his own machinations, and also being the target of love-starved women and their mischievous children. It may not be the masterpiece of It’s a Gift or The Bank Dick, but it’s filled with laughs and offers other Fields gifts that aren’t contained in those other classics.

The Great McGonigle (W.C. Fields) heads a touring repertory troupe that plays the small towns across America often to such low turnout that they have to skip out on their theater rental and boarding house fees. When the company arrives at Bellefontaine, McGonigle is dismayed to find the theater hasn’t sold many tickets, but by giving the town’s wealthiest and least talented woman Cleopatra Pepperday (Jan Duggan) a fictitious role in the old Victorian melodrama The Drunkard, the whole town turns out to see her fall on her face. Elsewhere, wealthy playboy Wally Livingston (Joe Morrison) has caught the show biz bug and has a big crush on the troupe’s leading lady Betty McGonigle (Judith Allen), and McGonigle gives him a job as the juvenile lead and the show’s singing star, much to the chagrin of Wally’s father (Oscar Apfel) who wants him to return to college.

W.C. Fields penned the story (under the pseudonym of Charles Bogle) which has been adapted into a script by Garnett Weston and Jack Cunningham. It gives us all we want to see of Fields hoodwinking sheriffs, train conductors, widows, and landladies (Nora Cecil plays the hatchet-faced Mrs. Wendelschaffer) in his usual blowhard style, but he usually pays for his chicanery either in pratfalls or at the hands of a tyke like Baby LeRoy. The latter features in one of the film’s key comic sequences as the baby lets go with one dinner table takedown after another until it appears McGonigle gets in the last blow excepting a final retaliation near film’s end. Songwriters Mack Gordon and Harry Revel provide two new songs for their Irish tenor juvenile lead Joe Morrison: the frisky “Rolling in Love” and the treacly “A Little Bit of Heaven,” both of which are highlights of the film, but the love story is very mild and not particularly effective as a respite from Fields’ tomfoolery. Fields and director William Beaudine also see to it that the old-time hambone drama The Drunkard is played straight without satirical mannerisms to show up its unsophisticated naiveté (Fields does let stagehands throw fake snow in his face in one obvious nod to the play’s outrageousness). Beaudine uses the camera straightforwardly throughout rarely framing his action in any but the most expected patterns.

If the film had no other merit, The Old Fashioned Way offers us the best look we’d ever get of the vaudevillian side of W.C. Fields. As a bonus attraction after The Drunkard concludes, Bill returns to center stage to astound and amaze us with his manual dexterity with all numbers of objects: his top hat, some balls, a pole, and the famous cigar boxes. This is part of what kept him a top stage attraction for decades and why Florenz Ziegfeld hired him as one of the principal stars of his Follies for several seasons. There are bits and pieces of this art scattered throughout his filmography, but this is pure, prime Fields at play, and it’s great. Judith Allen is adequate as his dutiful but concerned daughter, and Joe Morrison is paired well with her even if their love story is given short shrift. Better are Tammany Young as McGonigle’s valet and Jan Duggan as the rich matron McGonigle intends on using for his own ends, both excellent foils for the master. Baby LeRoy continues bedeviling Fields just as effectively as he’d already done in Tillie and Gus and would continue to do in It’s a Gift.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is faithfully reproduced in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The film only occasionally looks very sharp; most of the time; there is a slightly soft aura to the photography that dates it a little. There are also tiny scratches here and there, not overwhelming but nevertheless present. Grayscale doesn’t offer the deepest blacks, but the white levels are nice and bright. The movie has been divided into 8 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack very much represents this era of audio recording with lots of treble and very little bass to be heard. Dialogue has been well recorded, however, and has been mixed with the music and sound effects effectively. There are no age-related problems with hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter.

Special Features: 2/5

Audio Commentary: James L. Neibaur, author of books on the films of both star W.C. Fields and director William Beaudine, offers a fine track with good information very clearly and expressively recounted.

Theatrical Trailer (2:37, SD)

Kino Trailers: You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man, My Little Chickadee, The Bank Dick.

Overall: 3.5/5

The cagey, charlatan version of W.C. Fields is front and center in William Beaudine’s The Old Fashioned Way, perhaps not the best of Fields’ many comedies but one which offers views of the great comedian not found in his other flicks.

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Published by

Matt Hough

editor,member

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OLDTIMER

Stunt Coordinator
Joined
Jul 11, 2019
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Ken S-B
Thanks Matt – Great revue. I have the 17-Fields-movies British Universal set of DVDs from 2007 and THE OLD FASHIONED WAY is one of my favorites. Although Baby LeRoy gives him a hard time, Fields retaliates in his best sadistic way.

I’m not sure where Kino Lorber sourced their print, but the DVD is quite sharp with a reasonably good grey scale.
 
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