A Fatal Glass of Beer

Year 1933

W.C. Fields as  Mr. Snavely
Rosemary Theby as Mrs. Snavely
Richard Cramer as Officer Posthlewhistle  
George Chandler   as Chester Snavely
Director - Clyde Bruckman
Screenwriters - W.C. Fields  

W.C. Fields was an original and if you never see anything else he's done, at least see this one. It's only about eighteen minutes long. It's unpolished and looks like it was made by some talented grade schoolers using their parents' camera. But the approach focuses Fields' piercing wit and surreal vision. You can find it on http://archive.org/details/Fatal_Glass_of_Beer_1933 if you want.

The plot is that a couple in the Yukon are told of their son's being released from prison and they wait for him to arrive at their cabin. Right off the bat, you know that Fields is parodying the Canadian goldrush films that were popular at the time.

The first scene is Mr. Snavely (Fields) in a shack when Officer Posthlewhistle visits him. At Posthlewhistle's request, Fields recants his son's fall from grace with dulcimer accompanyment, as only Fields can "play" a dulcimer. From the song, it all began with that first taste of beer in a bar in the big city. You know the big city.

Mr. Snavely: It ain't no place for a woman, gal, but pretty men go thar.

When it's time for Mr. Snavely to go home, he gets up, opens the cabin door, checks the weather, announces, "And it ain't a fit night out for ma-a-an nor beast," and promptly gets pelted with some white stuf that is most likely supposed to be snow.

I call it white stuff because it really doesn't look like snow. After some gets in his mouth, Fields even comments, "Tastes more like corn flakes."

This is a running gag througout the short. Each time Mr. Snavely checks the weather and makes his announcement, Wham! white stuff. Even if Mr. Snavely just checks the conditions from a window pane, the pane is missing and he gets pelted.

Not only does Fields not play the dulcimer correctly, he has his own way of playing the English language. Who makes up a name like Officer Posthlewhistle? Fields does, of course. He has more to say about the city, too, adding his own interpretation of how people in the Yukon might speak.

Mr. Snavely: Once the city gets into a ba-hoy's sa-histem, he a-loses his a-hankerin' for the ca-huntry.

There are other sight gags. On his way back to his cabin, Mr. Snavely uses a dog team. In what has to be one of the most deliberately horrid special effects in a movie, his dog team (with a dachshund in the middle so its legs don't touch the ground) speeds him along on the way home. Still, I've got to say that these special effects are at least as convincing at those in Chicago or most movies using CGI.

Another gag involves Mr. Snavely and a four foot loaf of bread. Arriving at his cabin, it's time for dinner. Mr. Snavely sits in front of his bowl of dinner, grabs the loaf of bread, breaks it in about half, and dips the tip of a three foot piece into the bowl. After doing this repeatedly, when it comes time to eat some bread, Mr. Snavely chooses a much smaller piece.

It's so cold that the water pump produces ice chunks.

Fields always excelled at the spoken word and constantly tried to come up with new ways of saying old things. In one scene where the cold has affected his ability to blow a sound from a cow horn, he doesn't say, "My lips are frozen." He goes for, "The cold has affected my embouchure."

He plays with the mind of the audience, too, for his own amusement. Like in the following:

Chester: I feel so tired, I think I'll go to bed.
Mr. Snavely: Why don't you lie down and take a little rest first, Chester?

The final punchline to what amounts to a long running joke is a bit of a letdown. But, at least it ends the piece.

No profanity, nudity, or blasphemy. Just Fields entertaining himself and the audience in the process. They don't make 'em like this any more, and I wish they did.

P.S. Look at the name of the director. There's an X-Files episode called "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose". The name choice was no coincidence. The real Bruckman committed suicide using a gun from Buster Keaton.

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