The Story (continued)
It's a Gift (1934)
Mr. Muckle, a thin, emaciated man, who carries an immense ear trumpet (which Harold thinks is a pipe), finally decides on a stick of chewing gum after a prolonged, difficult conversation with Harold:
Harold: What can I do, uh... (retrieving the ear trumpet) WHAT CAN I DO FOR YOU?
Muckle: Have you got any chewing gum?
Harold: Uh, yes we have. (Shouting into the earpiece) YES WE HAVE! YES! YES WE HAVE!
Fitchmueller: HOW ABOUT MY CUMQUATS?!
Harold: Coming, coming, coming, coming, coming.
Harold seats Mr. Muckle down next to an open display of loose light bulbs as he goes to wrap the chewing gum: "Now you sit right here until I come back. I'll be right back here. Sit right there." Recoiling from the sight of the 'accident-waiting-to-happen' pile of bulbs, Harold adds to his request: "Please sit there 'til I come back." Of course, Muckle can't stay seated and wanders around with his cane. From a distance, while he gets ready to wrap the gum with way too much butcher paper and string, Harold calls back with verbal endearments: "Sit down, Mr. Muckle, honey, sit down."
Mr. Muckle handles and fingers the light bulbs - one by one, they drop and explode loudly on the floor. Harold yells out more entreaties: "Sit down, Mr. Muckle, please dear." (In an aside: "I'm being polite with him.") But Muckle's clumsiness topples a few more bulbs. Eventually, as the irate customer shouts back: "Where's my gum?" his cane wipes out much of the light bulb display. Totally frazzled, Harold hasn't noticed that he has dropped the gum from the butcher paper. When Harold finally hands him the empty package of gum, now poorly wrapped in a half-open, crumpled mass of butcher paper, the stingy, curmudgeon Muckle orders: "I'm not gonna lug that with me. Send it!"
Dozing away, Everett is ordered to deliver the wrapped gum to Muckle's house on his bicycle. Mr. Fitchmueller is totally exasperated, wondering why his cumquat order is not being taken:
Fitchmueller: How does he rate all this attention? Who is that man?
Harold: He's the house detective over at the Grand Hotel.
As Harold tries to attend to the cumquat customer, Mr. Muckle successfully smashes the other front door's window on his way out, cheerfully adding: "Well, you got that door closed again!" Harold assists Muckle at the start of his passage across a quiet, empty street: "You're all right. There you are, go ahead. Nothing coming at all." Just as the blind, mute man steps off the curb, passing top-speed traffic and three fire engines with sirens blaring fill the street. From an overhead shot, a perfectly composed, calm, Mr. Muckle escapes being run down, as Harold cringes on the side: "Mr. Muckle, come back." Exhausted, Harold topples backwards on the sidewalk into a trashcan. He pries himself out of the ashcan with a shovel that he uses as a lever. Despairingly, Fitchmueller asks once more: "Now will you get me my cumquats?"
Out on the street outside the shop, Mildred's fiancee, salesman John Durston tells Mildred that the orange grove land that Harold has purchased from him is a worthless barren desert, and that nothing will grow on it. He feels bad about it and plans to offer to return the money in exchange for the deed.
Fitchmueller laboriously spells the product for Harold so he can write the order down:
Harold: Oh yeah, C - U - M -
Fitchmueller: q-u-a-t-s, quats, quats.
Harold: Two quats?
Fitchmueller: No, one quat.
Harold: Oh yea, Q - U - A -
Fitchmueller: t-s, t-s.
Harold: T -
Fitchmueller: s, s, s.
Harold: Oh yes, yes, I've got it. S - S - is cumquats. Yes. Now uhm, let me see, uh?
When Everett returns to the store after delivering Mr. Muckle's gum, he rides his bicycle right into Harold, sending him over the counter. Into the store marches Amelia with Norman on roller skates. She loudly announces: "Good gracious, what in the world's happened here? Harold? Harold?" Norman shouts a question and then answers it: "Hey Pop, who do you think's dead? Who do you think's dead?...Uncle Bean's dead. Do we get to go to California now?"
In Harold's back office in the store, Amelia shows him the telegram with details of the uncle's death. At the Epworth League picnic, he choked to death eating an orange: "His heart couldn't stand it."
Harold: I didn't know oranges were bad for the heart.
Amelia: It was the excitement.
Harold: Oh, sure, the excitement, sure, that'd kill anybody. Very regretful.
Harold: Oh yes, regrettable.
They discuss ordering flowers for the funeral wreath. In storms Mr. Fitchmueller, still demanding his order of ten pounds of cumquats. Amelia suggests to Harold: "If you haven't any cumquats, why don't you tell the man?" But it is too late - the customer has marched out of the store.
John enters the store to tell Harold that his one escape from his dreary life - the orange grove he has purchased - is no good: "You can't grow oranges on it." But Harold, suspecting chicanery, is persistent about retaining his purchase and will not listen to reason from his future son-in-law:
Harold: An orange grove is an orange grove. You can't argue against that. (He holds a colorful brochure with a picture of a typical orange grove)
John: But that isn't the one we sold you.
Harold: It's in the same neighborhood, isn't it?
John: Yes, but you see...
Harold: Listen. You go back and tell that firm of yours that they sold me something good...Listen, as Mrs. Bissonette often says to me, 'Say Fin-ay,' meaning 'You can't fool me.'...Stop, enough. GO! Go-go-go. I've got my heart set on the thing. I'm goin' through with it.
The Dunks, the Bissonette's neighbors are out for their morning stroll. Mrs. Dunk (Josephine Whittell) is with her immaculately-dressed Baby Ellwood Dunk (Baby LeRoy). When she meets Amelia outside the front of the store, Baby Dunk is assigned to Everett for safe keeping in the store, for "a ten cents piece." Baby Dunk, Harold's nemesis (and later called "blood poison") hurls a can of clams at Harold and strikes him on the elbow. Harold grabs his bruised arm, orders Everett to: "Get - Him - Out of Here, GetHimOut, GetHimOut," and grumbles:
He would have to hit me right in the funny bone. He'd hit me in the back if he had to throw it. (He picks up the can) Clams too. I hate clams.
The ladies, both identically-dressed, are free to discuss the death of the uncle - Mrs. Bissonette expects the inheritance for herself: "Of course, no amount of money could compensate for the loss of a dear one." Mrs. Dunk enters the store for just a minute for a purchase:
Mrs. Dunk: What have you in the way of steaks?
Harold (pleasantly): Nothing in the way of steaks, we can get right to them!
He dresses in a fur coat and hat to enter the meat locker/freezer and bring out the meat. Outside, Amelia discusses funeral arrangements and mentions: "It's so hard for me to wear black." Viciously nasty, but still polite, Mrs. Dunk critically recommends that Amelia visit a new dress shop: "Oh yes, I know black is very trying for some. Why don't you go to Schnagendorfs? They specialize in such lovely things for older women."
Everett has provided gooey chocolate for Baby Dunk to eat, and the child quickly smears it all over his face. He also amuses the child in the store by sailing him through the air in an old-fashioned cage/basket used for transporting goods - a device that doesn't work to collect goods, but works for careening the child through the store. The steak is weighed inaccurately and poorly wrapped. Mrs. Dunk is overcharged when Harold rests the full weight of his elbow on the scale. Meanwhile, Baby Dunk has removed the spigot (conveniently at the right height) from the molasses keg and is walking around on the flooded floor in the sticky, messy syrup. The inept clerk Everett tries to explain why he didn't stop the child from covering the floor with molasses: "I told him I wouldn't do it if I was him!" Mrs. Dunk, the outraged mother, is infuriated and accuses Harold of deliberately releasing the molasses to get her child's shoes dirty. She promises never to return to the store again. Beset by multiple problems, Harold simply looks at Everett and in a subdued voice, intones his seething trademark: "I...hate you." Harold locks the place up, hanging a sign: "Closed on Account of Molasses." "That's the spreading-est stuff I ever saw in my life."
John Durston tells Mildred that Harold has paid the balance of his contract for the orange grove with the inheritance money promised by his late uncle. At home that evening in their house, Amelia lectures her husband, nagging him about her years of suffering and hard work, and his stupid orange grove purchase. Her continuing complaints keep him from napping on the couch in the parlor:
The only real money you ever have and you throw it away before you get your hands on a penny of it!...I don't see how you got the bank to lend you money on the strength of your getting anything from Uncle Bean's estate. Probably stopped into the saloon on the way there...Never a thought of me or the children. No insurance. Nothing. What if something should happen to you? Your Uncle Bean wasn't much older than you are...Are you listening to me? Wake up. Wake up and go to sleep! I've given you the best years of my life...And now I suppose I'll have to spend the rest of them depending on that grocery store for a bare existence.
Harold shocks her with the statement: "I sold the grocery store...I'm now in the orange business."
In their bedroom, just as he is about to fall asleep, at 4:30 am, Amelia is in a twin bed next to him, in a plain nightgown and hairnet. She continues her nagging to express her pain:
Amelia: For twenty years, I've struggled to make a home for you and the children...slaving day in and day out to make both ends meet...Sometimes I don't know which way to turn.
Harold (suggesting): Turn over on your right side, dear. Sleeping on your left side is bad for the heart.
The phone rings and she demands that he answer it. Sleepily, he goes to the phone, but it is a wrong number - an anonymous caller for the maternity hospital. When she asks who it was, she is suspicious of him:
Amelia: Funny thing they should call you up here at this hour of the night from the maternity hospital.
Harold (misunderstood and trying to mutter an explanation): They didn't call me up here from the maternity hospital. They wanted to know if this was the maternity hospital!
Amelia (not ready for any backtalk): Oh! Now you change it!
Harold: No I didn't change it, dear. I told you. They asked me if this was the maternity hospital.
Amelia: Don't make it any worse!...I don't know how you expect anybody to get any sleep, hopping in and out of bed all night, tinkering around the house, waiting up for telephone calls. You have absolutely no consideration for anybody but yourself. I have to get UP in the morning, get breakfast for YOU and the children. I have no MAID, you know. Probably never shall have.
On the Back Porch
The third major sequence is the classic 'sleeping scene,' the most famous one in the film. The setting is the rear of a three-story wooden building structure, with each floor having a porch.
Top Floor: The Dunk's porch
Middle Floor: The Bissonette's porch
Lower Floor: Another neighbor's porch
Tired of the endless harangues from his nagging wife, an exhausted, pajama-ed Harold is exhausted and sleepless, and it is already early dawn. He ditches Amelia and staggers out from the bedroom he shares with his wife to the back porch. Harold carries his pillow and blanket with him and tries to make himself comfortable by stretching out on the porch swing. It is badly in need of repair, squeaky and groaning. After testing it and thinking it's secure, one chain pulls out of the rotten floor boards above when his weight is applied to it, sending him crashing to the floor, and noisily dislodging a tin washbasin hanging on the wall. Amelia's voice booms out from inside: "HAROLD! Will you please keep quiet and let me get some sleep!" The beset man must sleep with the porch swing at an angle, leaving him head down and feet up.
But there are other distractions. A milkman with rattling bottles takes his delivery all the way up to the third floor, where he leaves a bottle of milk, a cornflakes box, and a huge coconut on the window sill. Harold calls down to the delivery man who is already above him: "Hey, make a little less noise down there, will ya?" Harold also calls up to the delivery man who has already returned to the street: "Please stop playing those sleigh bells, will ya?" Then, the coconut falls with a loud thump, rolls across the porch overhead, and bounces - bump, bump, bump, bump, bump, bump, bump, bump - down each flight of stairs. The annoying object also smashes into a garbage can at each landing and turns to go down the next flight of steps. Harold is startled from his slumber by the uneven momentum of the coconut. Now awake, he props the swing up with a chair.
The next intrusion on his much-deserved sleep is a well-dressed, puffed-up insurance salesman (T. Roy Barnes), who arrives in the back yard asking: "Is this 1726 Prill Avenue?" With a smile and a loud shot, he calls up to Harold in a long exchange to ask him about a gentleman named Carl LaFong. To make sure that Harold has gotten the name right, he spells it out:
Salesman: Carl LaFong, Capital L, small a, capital F, small o, small n, small g. LaFong. Carl LaFong.
Harold: No. I don't know Carl LaFong - Capital L, small a, Capital F, small o, small n, small g. And if I did know Carl LaFong, I wouldn't admit it!
The salesman tells him LaFong is an early-rising railroad man to whom he wishes to sell an annuity. Realizing his first victim is unavailable, the salesman bounds up the stairs and delivers a high-pressure sales pitch, promising a comfortable retirement at age 90:
Salesman: ...The public are buying them like hotcakes. All companies are going to discontinue this form of policy after the 23rd of this month.
Harold: That's rather unfortunate. (Withdrawing under his sheet)
Salesman: Yes, it will be. Maybe you would be interested in such a policy?
Harold: No, I would not.
Salesman: Say, what's your age?
Harold: None of your business.
Salesman: I would say you were a man about fifty.
Harold: Ah, you would say that!
Salesman: Let me see. (He thumbs through his notebook) Fifty, fifty, fifty. Ah, here we are. Here we have it. Now you can, by paying only five dollars a week, retire when you are 90 on a comfortable income...or you can change to a regular paid-up policy, and at death, the beneficiary...
With all the commotion, his wife is awakened and appears at the door to complain about the noise: "Harold, if you and your friend wish to exchange ribald stories, please take him downstairs." Harold double-takes: "My friend?" Harold disappears into the house and reappears with a raised cleaver, causing the salesman to beat a hasty retreat. Harold calls after him: "I suppose if I live to be 200, I'll get a velocipede."
Harold attempts to explain to his wife that he doesn't want the salesman to ever come round again at any time, no matter how reasonable the hour:
Harold: But I never want to see him again.
Amelia (retorting): Then why did you invite him up here?
She slams the door shut. He drops the cleaver on his foot, and then stretches back out on the swing.
By this time Harold is entirely exhausted and irritable, but he does manage to doze off. Baby Dunk, who lives upstairs, is awake by now and playing on the porch above him. The Baby squeezes a clump of grapes through a knot-hole onto Harold's nose. Harold is annoyed: "Right on the proboscis!" Some single grapes go into his open mouth, almost choking him. He spits one out - right into the Baby's face. Baby Dunk even lets an ice-pick drop, narrowly missing his head, but sticking into the arm of the swing near his head. When he is struck a second time by a clump of grapes, Harold says: "Shades of Bacchus!" He is exasperated and rushes upstairs to show his anger toward the child with the ice pick in his hand, screaming: "Even a worm will turn." But the boy's mother emerges on her porch, confronts him, and protects her offspring. Meekly, he hands over the pick: "Here is your ice pick." She glares at him and accuses him of messing up the floor and giving her child the colic by feeding him grapes:
It wasn't enough for you to pour molasses all over him. Now you have to stuff him with grapes and give him the colic.
He returns to his sleep, but is again disturbed by a young Miss Abby Dunk (Diana Lewis), a teenager who jumps noisily down the wooden stairs from the third floor. Her bouncing upsets dustbin lids and pans. When she gets to the ground level, she engages in a loud, irritating conversation with her mother (who is manicuring her nails) on the top level. In a very banal conversation, they discuss back and forth whether she should buy ipecac or syrup of squill for Baby Dunk. In a sing-song, penetrating repartee, her mother suggests she just get what is easiest, one or the other:
Mrs. Dunk: Don't forget the ipecac!
Abby: I thought you said syrup of squill.
Mrs. Dunk: I can't hear you, talk louder!
Abby: I thought you said syrup of squill.
Mrs. Dunk: All right, syrup of squill. I don't care.
Abby: I don't care either. I'll get ipecac if you want me to.
Mrs. Dunk: Well, ipecac or syrup of squill. I don't care which.
Abby: I don't care either. You tell me what to get and I'll get it.
Mrs. Dunk: Get whichever one you want. I don't care. Whatever they have handy. It's just the same to me.
Abby: It's just the same to me, too. I hate 'em both. Oh, where will I go? To Jones's?
Mrs. Dunk: Use your own judgment.
Abby: No, you tell me where to go.
Hearing that last line fly by, Harold mutters under his breath:
Harold: I'd like to tell you both where to go!
Mrs. Dunk (loudly complaining): There's no use dear. I can't hear a word you're saying. Somebody's shouting on the floor below. So you'd better run along.
Mrs. Bissonette has been roused back into the conversation:
Amelia: Who were those women you were talking to?
Harold: Mrs. Dunk upstairs.
Amelia: Seems to me you're getting pretty familiar with Mrs. Dunk upstairs!
Harold: They were talking to me, I wasn't talking to them.
A neighbor Mrs. Frobisher (Patsy O'Byrne) yanks her squeaky clothesline with wash attached to it. Harold thinks it is a noisy mouse and sets a huge trap next to a potentially offending rodent's hole. When he sees a huge pair of bloomers come into view, he remarks: "Good morning, Mrs. Frobisher," and is startled when she answers him from the other porch.
He is again interrupted by the arrival of a noisy vegetable/fruit vendor (Jerry Mandy) selling his wares: "Strawberries at 15 cents a box." That is the last straw for Harold. He runs inside the house to get his shotgun and then threatens from the porch with the cocked gun: "Vegetable man. Vegetable gentleman?..." but his target has already disappeared. He lies down on the swing one more time. As he relaxes, the gun falls from his hand, causing it to fire, collapsing the entire swing one more time. Harold grabs a fly-swatter and swats at an innocent speck on the floor: "There, take that."