The Story (continued)
Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941)
Back in the studio office, the exasperated Producer tells the Great Man how absurd and impossible the screenplay is:
This script is an insult to a man's intelligence - even mine...It's impossible, inconceivable, incomprehensible, and besides that, it's no good. And as for the continuity, it's terrible.
The story resumes with the script, miraculously locating Fields' niece Gloria Jean at the airport who is receiving a phone call from her Uncle Bill. She is told to join him at the Russian village at the foot of the mountain top retreat. (The Russian colony in Mexico was where he was heading before his spectacular dive from the plane landed him in the mountain top villa.)
Meanwhile, he recounts his fabulous tale to two engineers in the village bar. One of them replies: "If that girl is as beautiful as you say, I'll scale the wall tomorrow." Fields learns that Mrs. Hemoglobin, the old gal, is fabulously wealthy - she "has a bank roll so big a greyhound couldn't leap over it." He quickly is intrigued and suddenly has a change of heart about the "buzzard":
She seemed like an awfully nice woman to me.
Gloria Jean arrives in the village as a Russian chorus of strolling gypsy musicians greets her. They sing a musical interlude together: "Otchi Tchorniya." In the bar, a fellow patron orders: "two goat milks." Fields is surprised to see the effect this new drink has, and samples one himself. His breath becomes super-charged when he blows on a candleflame. He is reunited with Gloria Jean.
The two engineers scale the mountain retreat's cliff wall. One of them, wearing a Tyrolean outfit, is saved by Gargo, a gorilla, and brought to the summit. The other reaches the top and meets Ouliotta. She immediately wants to play her new game with him, complimenting him after a lengthy kiss: "You must be a professional." She breaks into song, "Comin' Through the Rye." The producer is flabbergasted:
Marvelous. Wonderful. Amazing. The girl has been living on a mountaintop since she was three months old and for no reason at all, suddenly blossoms out with Jump and Jive. Do you actually think I'm a dope? Now don't you answer that.
Both engineers thoroughly enjoy the 'squidgulum" game with the two women on the mountaintop. Fields and his niece are cranked up the cliff in the basket. He has come fully prepared to woo the wealthy Mrs. Hemoglobin with a bouquet of flowers. Dressed in a wedding outfit, he plans to propose to the craggy woman. ("Here Comes the Bride" plays on the soundtrack.) Gloria Jean watches her uncle's awkward, hand-kissing gallantry and unromantic advances from the side:
My Uncle Bill...But I still love him.
Fields proposes a double-header marriage ceremony for Mrs. Hemoglobin and her daughter. Gloria Jean objects to his marriage plans, hating to see her uncle marrying for money. He argues with her:
Don't you want to live in this beautiful nest, have a personal maid, wear a diaphanous gown, and eat regularly?
But after one look at his bride-to-be, he leaves her at the altar and quickly heads with Gloria Jean for the cliff basket. As they start falling, Gloria Jean cries out:
Gloria Jean: We're falling two thousand feet!
Fields: All right, dear. Don't start worrying until we get down to one-thousand, nine-hundred, and ninety-nine. It's the last foot that's dangerous.
The Producer throws up his hands in disgust - he has finally heard enough: "That's all. That's enough. That's too much." He leaves in a huff and kicks Fields out of the office.
** The "movie-within-a-movie" comes to an end. **
Dejected and bewildered, Fields goes to a soda fountain (not a saloon!) on the studio lot for a drink - a "jumbo ice cream soda." He gives an excuse for getting a drink: "I feel as though somebody stepped on my tongue with muddy feet." He calmly blows the head off his ice cream soda. And then he directs a vengeful line toward the camera and blue-pencil censors, who forced this scene to be shot in a soda fountain setting instead of a bar:
This scene was supposed to be in a saloon, but the censor cut it out. It'll play just as well this way.
Gloria Jean defends her uncle, punching the producer in the nose when he calls her Uncle Bill a "numbskull." She leaves the office threatening:
And if Uncle Bill doesn't work here anymore, I don't either!
(A scene deleted from the final print is the death of Gloria Jean's mother, a trapeze artist.) Both unemployed, they determine to leave town. Fields has promised Gloria's mother that he will be her guardian, but he has decided to take off for parts unknown and leave her in school. She is upset:
Gloria Jean: But how can you look out for me when I'm here and you're way down there?
Fields: You want to go to school, don't you?...You want to grow up and be dumb like ZaSu Pitts?
She convinces him that she can join him as he realizes: "There's no sense arguing with a woman."
While he waits in the car outside by the curb, he generously gives Gloria Jean a dollar and a quarter to spend in a department store:
Go in there and buy yourself several outfits.
One of the officers in the patrol car in front of him is preparing to give him a ticket for parking next to a fire plug, but then returns to his patrol car to hear a crime report about a bank robbery:
Radio report: ...two crooks who have just held up the bank for one hundred and fifty thousand...that is all.
Fields (overhearing the report): That is all? A hundred and fifty thousand. That's all. It ain't hay, is it?
Radio report: ...One crook - slight build, evidently a jockey, has a horse scar behind his left ear...other crook has corn teeth, cauliflower ear, apple-red cheeks, mutton-chop whiskers.
Fields (commenting on the characteristics of the colorful-sounding criminal): Sounds like a full-course dinner to me! What? No apple pie?
Inside the store, an oversized, matronly woman who is buying pink baby clothes suddenly realizes that she is very late, and has very little time to deliver the clothes to the maternity hospital before leaving that afternoon. She rushes out of the store in an agitated state to find a taxi, but cannot find one. Fields offers: "If I can be of any assistance?" Gratefully, she accepts his generous offer, and asks to be rushed to the maternity hospital because she is late. He obviously jumps to the conclusion that she is pregnant, and roars away through downtown Los Angeles.
The film's classic, mad, mixed-up, slapstick car chase scene (reminiscent of Mack Sennett's Keystone Kop chases) occupies the final ten minutes of the film. The lady taps on the dividing window between the front and back seats, attempting to tell him to slow down but he interprets her frantic motions as a signal that he must drive even faster. He jams the car's accelerator to the floor. Distressed, she wants him to take it easy, but as he speeds ahead just barely missing other traffic, she faints in shock. As she is unconscious and jostled back and forth on the back seat, he thinks she is having signs of early labor, and becomes even more concerned to get her there quickly. He receives a police escort with cops on motorcycles, sirens blaring.
As part of a masterful series of stunts, near-misses and collisions, filmed in the finest Keystone tradition, his car's roof gets tangled up with the hook and ladder of a fire-engine. His car is hoisted high into the air and then dumped back onto the highway. He narrowly misses pedestrians and other cars in the frantic ride to the hospital.
His wrecked and disintegrating car finally comes to a halt next to the "Maternity Hospital Quiet!" sign. He is left holding only the steering wheel in his hands. Hospital orderlies rush out with a stretcher and wheel the unconscious passenger into the delivery room - she recovers consciousness just in time to berate the hospital staff. Fields staggers at the crash site, musing: "Lucky we didn't have an accident...We'd never have made it."
In the closing, his niece arrives by taxi, smiles at him and comments: "My Uncle Bill...but I still love him!"
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AMC Filmcritic's Review of Never Give a Sucker an Even Break