We’re back for the second film featuring my Star Of The Month for November 2022, W. C. Fields! This time, it’s his 1940 film My Little Chickadee, also starring Mae West!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Divot Diggers (1936)
(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 5 (1935-1936) from ClassicFlix)
(Length: 14 minutes, 51 seconds)
The Gang are all out having fun playing golf. When the caddies at the course go on strike, the owner convinces the Gang to help caddie for some of his golfing customers. I will admit that I have some mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, it’s a lot of fun watching the kids when they play golf by themselves at the start, and the chimp they bring along to help caddie is also entertaining. However, the focus on this one really isn’t the kids, it’s on the chimp and the adult golfers. While the adults are funny, I can’t help but feel that it takes away from the kids, who should have been the ones that this short followed. Still, I certainly can’t deny that this is one that I would have fun seeing again.
And Now For The Main Feature…
The stagecoach to Little Bend is robbed by a masked bandit. One of the passengers, Flower Belle Lee (Mae West), catches his eye, and he kidnaps her. Later, before the town can get a posse together to go after her, she wanders into town of her own volition. Later, the bandit visits her at night, but is seen leaving by the nosy Mrs. Gideon (Margaret Hamilton). When Flower Belle refuses to divulge who the masked bandit is (since she herself doesn’t know), the town council kicks her out, warning her not to come back unless she is married and respectable. On the train to the city of Greasewood, Flower Belle meets Cuthbert J. Twillie (W. C. Fields). He quickly becomes enamored with her, and she takes a liking to him after seeing that he carries a carpet bag full of money. Twillie quickly proposes marriage, and Flower Belle agrees. She convinces her friend, gambler Amos Budge (Donald Meek), to perform the “ceremony” (since everybody else assumes that he is a member of the clergy due to how he is dressed). In the town of Greasewood, Flower Belle quickly gains the attention of the local newspaper reporter Wayne Carter (Dick Foran) as well as that of the powerful and corrupt bar owner Jeff Badger (Joseph Calleia). After listening to some of Twillie’s tall tales (and learning that he is married to Flower Belle), Jeff immediately offers the job of town sheriff to Twillie, which he accepts. When he has the opportunity, Twillie tries to figure out a way to consummate their marriage, but he is shot down by Flower Belle at every opportunity. The masked bandit again visits Flower Belle, and Twillie, learning about how easily she lets the bandit into her boudoir, attempts to disguise himself as the bandit. Flower Belle quickly realizes that it’s him, but the two of them wind up in trouble when he is seen leaving and mistaken for the real bandit. Both of them are thrown in jail, but Flower manages to escape, hoping to clear Twillie. Will she be successful, or will Twillie be hanged as the bandit?
In 1939, Universal Studios successfully teamed up James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich (whose career had been in decline after her initial success under director Josef Von Sternberg) in the Western comedy Destry Rides Again. Hoping for a similar success, the studio decided to pair up W. C. Fields (who had recently signed with them for the film You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man) and Mae West (whose career had been in a slump ever since the rise of the Production Code, with My Little Chickadee being her first film since 1937’s Every Day’s A Holiday at Paramount Pictures). Behind the scenes, this didn’t turn out the best. Both stars had a preference for writing their own material, not to mention W. C. Fields had a penchant for ad-libbing (compared to Mae West, who preferred to stick to the script). It’s unclear as to who wrote what (and how much), as different sources have claimed different things, with Mae West claiming that she wrote everything apart from a scene set in a bar, and others have claimed that they wrote their own scenes (and ad-libbed their stuff together). Either way, they reportedly didn’t get along very well off-screen. It wasn’t enough to stop audiences from going to see the movie, however, as it turned out to be Fields’ highest-grossing film at Universal, and Mae West’s last successful film.
This is a movie that I’ve been wanting to see for a while, particularly after hearing via one of the forums I frequent that the movie was being restored (but more on that in a moment). I’ve finally had the chance to see the movie twice within this last year, and I’ve enjoyed it! Now, I’ve seen it said that originally, W. C. Fields received a lot of praise in this movie, while Mae West was heavily criticized. First off, I should mention that this was my first time seeing any Mae West films (as opposed to the various caricatures and imitations of her in many cartoons that I grew up with). On that initial impression, I’m inclined to agree with the critics who took issue with her in this film. Don’t get me wrong, she is funny here, with a number of innuendo-laden lines that somehow got past the censors, not to mention when she takes over as a schoolteacher for the classroom of young boys. My problem with her is that her performance is very one-note, as she essentially purrs EVERY line in that “come-up-and-see-me-sometime” manner. Not one hint of emotion beyond that, which really doesn’t work when she helps defend the train against some attacking Native Americans or when she escapes from jail in an attempt to help clear W. C. Fields’ Twillie of wrongdoing. If she could have managed more emotion, especially in those situations, I wouldn’t have been bothered as much by it.
W. C. Fields, on the other hand, does manage to give a good performance (and leave me laughing in the process). During that same train attack I mentioned, he was effectively cowering and trying to hide with the children in another train car (while using a slingshot to try and shoot at their attackers). He spends a good deal of the movie trying to get into his “wife’s” boudoir, with the most memorable attempt being him actually getting in, but making the mistake of taking a bath in her bathroom (while she gets ready to leave and go elsewhere, leaving him with a goat in the bed instead). Of course, he plays cards (and cheats at that, too), so he fits right in in a Western. The only complaint about him is how he treats his Native American friend (although that is typical of how his characters tend to treat others). The plot itself is kind of all over the place, which in some respects shows how they were having trouble writing it behind the scenes with the two competing egos. In my book, Fields alone makes this film worth seeing (he’s not enough to make it a great film, but he overcomes most of the film’s problems), so I would certainly recommend giving it a shot!
What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… My Little Chickadee (1940)
This movie is available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The transfer is sourced from a 4K restoration done by Universal Pictures and the Film Foundation using a 35mm nitrate composite fine grain and a 35mm dupe negative. In short, this film looks fantastic on Blu-ray! The detail is shown off beautifully, and all the dust and debris has been cleaned. This may not be the best W. C. Fields film on Blu-ray, but it’s certainly the best-looking one on the format, making it highly recommended!
Film Length: 1 hour, 24 minutes
My Rating: 9/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
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