Filmsite Movie Review
Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941)
Pages: (1) (2)
Background

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941) is a tour de force of W.C. Fields' off-beat humor, double-takes, broad comedy and priceless lines and sketches. The screenplay by John T. Noville and Prescott Chaplin was based upon Fields' own original material (under nom de plume Otis Criblecoblis).

The film is an absurd, irrational, surrealistic, innovative and wacky film with no real plot - it was cut so severely that it appears to be an erratic hodge-podge, full of holes and loose ends without cohesion and continuity. W. C. Fields' last starring role in a feature-length film consists mainly of a series of flashbacks (the script's action is read by a film producer played by Franklin Pangborn) - a number of disjointed, funny and bizarre scenes spoofing his own cinematic career, Hollywood and the filmmaking industry.

The Story

The film opens with the bemused Great Man (W. C. Fields playing himself), a film scriptwriter, walking on his way to Esoteric Studios on the West Coast for a story conference. He stops in front of a large billboard sign to admire an advertisement for his most recent movie (The Bank Dick (1940), produced for Universal, not Esoteric). He is insulted by two boys who criticize his film, calling it a "Buptkie." Then, he makes a pass at a pretty girl: "Hi ya tootie-pie. Everything under control?" He doesn't realize she is accompanied by a husky enraged boyfriend, and he is punched in the face and knocked over a gate. He declares: "All five of 'em hit me at once."

In the memorable restaurant-ordering scene, he enters the Cozy Corner Cafe, a greasy-spoon restaurant run by a fat, obnoxious waitress Tiny (Jody Gilbert). He requests a menu and asks: "Is there any goulash on this menu?" She wipes a spot off the menu and replies: "It's roast beef gravy." He asks about the steak: "Is that steak New York cut?" She crosses if off the menu - it is unavailable. Pouring him a glass of ice water, she becomes distracted and he ends up with the overflow on his lap. He jokes:

No extra charge for the cold shower, I hope.

Struggling to order something, he asks: "Do you think it's too hot for pork chops?" That also is crossed off the menu, along with a number of other items. He wonders: "That, uh, practically, uh, eliminates everything but ham and eggs...No ham." He is forced to order two four-minute eggs in a cup, white bread, and milk. He mutters:

I don't know why I ever come in here - The flies get the best of everything.

On Stage 6 at Esoteric Studios, his niece Gloria Jean (Gloria Jean playing herself) is doing a test shoot, performing "Estrella." Her mother Mlle. Gorgeous (Anne Nagel) also works at the studios as a trapeze artist double.

Back at the restaurant, the classic run-in with the fleshy waitress continues:

Waitress: And another thing. You're always squawking about something. If it isn't the steak, it's something else.
Fields (muttering): I didn't squawk about the steak, dear. I merely said I didn't see that old horse that used to be tethered outside here.
Waitress (sneering): You're as funny as a cry for help.
(As she approaches the table, he gives her an underhanded compliment.)
Fields: You used to be an old Follies girl?
Waitress: You know, there's something awfully big about you. (Long pause) Your nose.
Fields: (Looking at her big behind, and insulting her under his breath): There's something awfully big about you too.

Paying his tab, he asks: "What's the amount of the insult?" Before he leaves, she advises:

Waitress: And another thing, don't be so free with your hands.
Fields: Listen honey. I was only trying to guess your weight. You take things too seriously.

She catches him trying to replace his damaged straw hat with an undamaged look-alike on the hat rack.

Gloria Jean continues to rehearse, singing the first of two musical interludes: "Hot Cha Cha" (accompanied by the two younger boys, Buddy and Butch from the billboard scene) and then "Voices of Spring." She is required to rehearse through the entire lunch hour by a nervous and upset Producer (Franklin Pangborn playing himself). After finishing, she greets her uncle at the front gate of the studios. He is on his way to have the studio read and buy his new script.

When he enters the Producer's outer office, the receptionist (Carlotta Monti) is having a loud conversation with someone on the phone:

You big hotty-dottie. You smoke vile cigars all day and drink whiskey half the night. Someday, you'll drown in a vat of whiskey.

Fields repeats her last words and quips, in one of his most famous lines:

Drown in a vat of whiskey. Death where is thy sting?

When she is done with her conversation, he mutters: "Shortest interview on record." He is ushered in to see the skeptical producer, but walks into the wall after putting on his damaged hat with the top flap covering his eyes.

He first practices his golf swing, hitting himself in the head. Next, he attempts to get financial support for a movie from his script about one of his highly improbable adventures. It is an uphill struggle to sell his script, for he clearly isn't held in high regard at Esoteric Studios (compared to his stardom status at Universal). The producer and his wife are thoroughly bored with his disjointed, unrealistic script. The increasingly incredulous Producer insists on reading the script outloud and the scene shifts to "a film within a film."

** The whole script is related in the following action. **

He travels to Mexico, accompanied by his niece Gloria Jean, on an airplane resembling a train with sleeping berths. His plan is to sell wooden nutmegs to members of a Russian colony to become rich. After sleeping the night, they are awakened by a flight attendant. She asks:

Attendant: Are you air sick?
Fields: Somebody put too many olives in my martinis last night.

He sings a drunken version of a song entitled: "Chickens Lay Eggs in Kansas." On his trip, many opportunities arise for classic comments and observations. Joking about a Turkish passenger's size, Fields quips:

Do you travel as one person or do you get a party rate of ten?

The man claims to be plagued with insomnia. He prescribes a cure for the insomniac:

Get plenty of sleep. That's what the doctor told me.

On the open-air rear observation deck (an impossibility!) of the plane, he takes a drink of "gin-ger ale." When his niece comes out and asks him: "Why didn't you ever marry?" he tells her of a broken romance with a beautiful blonde in a memorable one-liner:

I was in love with a beautiful blonde once, dear. She drove me to drink. That's the one thing I'm indebted to her for.

Diving to retrieve his precious bottle of booze which he has accidentally knocked over the side while gesturing, he drunkenly makes a free-fall dive from out of the airplane, now flying over Mexico. Catching up with the bottle as he falls thousands of feet to the ground, he lands on a giant mattress in a strange mountain cliff-top country (Ruritania), bouncing about a dozen times until he comes to rest. His first words after getting up are:

Why didn't I think of that parachute? What a bump!

He startles an attractive girl, a Russian expatriate, the lovely, nubile and virginal Ouliotta Delight Hemoglobin (Susan Miller), who's never met or seen a man before. She asks:

Ouliotta: Are you really a man?
Fields: Well, I've been called other things.

He takes advantage of her ignorance and is only too happy to introduce her to the species. He teaches her a game called "squidgulum" (a variation on post office, a kissing game). With her hands placed on her head and her eyes closed, he kisses her twice. They are interrupted when her aggressive mother, black-robed Mrs. Hemoglobin (Margaret Dumont) appears with a ferocious mastiff guard dog with fangs. Fields labels them: "Romulus and Remus." Immediately smitten by him, she wants to join in the kissing game and puckers up in readiness, but he is terrified by how formidable she is. He quickly scurries away, jumping into a basket on the edge of a cliff. (The basket is part of an elevator/pulley apparatus affixed to the mountainside, attached to ropes on a winch.)

The basket quickly descends down the cliff as the rope uncranks. Mrs. Hemoglobin is disgusted by him, having been deserted by her husband, Ouliotta's father:

Mrs. Hemoglobin (to Ouliotta): Men. Men. They're all alike. They'll deceive you as your father did me. He kissed a chorus girl and when I found out he said, 'Oh, I was drunk and didn't know what I was doing.'
Ouliotta (asking about Fields): Do you think he drinks?
Mrs. Hemoglobin: He didn't get that nose from playing ping-pong.

Fields crash-lands at the bottom of the cliff, close to a village in the valley far below.


Next Page