The Old Fashioned Way

Year 1934

W.C. Fields as  The Great McGonigle /
Squire Cribbs ('The Drunkard')
Joe Morrison   as Wally Livingston /
William Dowton ('The Drunkard')  
Baby LeRoy as Albert Pepperday
Judith Allen as Betty McGonigle /
Agnes Dowton ('The Drunkard')  
Jan Duggan as Cleopatra Pepperday
Oscar Apfel as Mr. Livingston
Director - William Beaudine
Screenwriters - Garnett Weston
  - Jack Cunningham
Story - Charles Bogle (W.C. Fields)

Growing up and watching W.C. Fields films on television, I was more impressed with his juggling than with his humor. I thought I'd remembered his juggling from a silent movie. It turns out that was I remembering one of the scenes from The Old Fashioned Way, which is a talkie.

Fields plays The Great McGonigle and whenever anyone attempts to call him anything else, such as Mr. McGonigle, he corrects them. He is The Great McGonigle. Of course the only greatness he seems to have achieved can only be seen through the eyes of an indomitable shyster. The Great McGonigle is in charge of a group of vaudeville performers who travel from town to town doing one night stands. They're living hand to mouth and The Great McGonigle is barely one step ahead of the law.

The premise of the movie had promise, but failed to percolate. This is due, in large part I'm afraid to say, to Fields. He gets all of the lines but one and his are too sparse to make this a well paced comedy. Another problem is that his character borders on unlikable for most of the movie. Fields never really played a sympathetic character, but he never alienated his audiences either. At least he hadn't until this film

Oh, he's a con man, liar, and thief and that's to be expected. But he lies to his daughter early on and that goes too far.

Also, about half of the movie is his troupe's stage play "The Drunkard" which is too formulaic to be taken seriously (Fields plays the villain complete with drooping mustache and black outfit) and not barbed enough to generate laughs. An opportunity was missed.

There are some funny lines and moments. Fields' scene with the two year old Baby LeRoy will generate some smiles, although I look down on resorting to having to manipulate innate innocent and cuteness of children (or animals) for laughs. A scene where Cleopatra Pepperday sings for McGonigle is sort of funny but goes on too long. The idea behind this is that Fields keeps hoping the song will end and when it doesn't he jerks with each new stanza.

The movie will mostly have you smiling and there's a bit of an inside joke when, as Squire Cribbs, Fields announces "And it ain't a fit night out for ma-a-a-n nor beast," and gets pelted with "snow". It's his running gag used in The Fatal Glass of Beer. He has a few other good moments and, at the end, he demonstrates what a self-sacrificing father he can be.

The best part of the movie is the all too short juggling scene. He juggles balls and cigar boxes. He will occassionally drop one thing or another, but he manages to include humor in his routines and the routines demonstrate what excellent hand-eye coordination he had.

Maybe it's not all Fields' fault. The director was William "one shot" Beaudine and he was notorious for not bringing anything original to the set. So despite a bad play taking up half of the movie, pedestrian directing, and lulls in the comedy it's not a bad movie. You'd better like the slap-stick Fields though.

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