Saturday Editor’s Pick: “The Bank Dick”

by on April 30, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

2:30, 5:30, 9:30 at Film Forum [Program & Tix]
Film Forum’s W. C. Fields series continues today with what is arguably the comedian’s greatest film, The Bank Dick. You can find our big round-up on Fields here.
Alt Screen contributor Cullen Gallagher sums up one of his personal favorite comedians, and offers further thoughts on Field’s experimental riff on the two-reelerThe Fatal Glass of Beer, which you can watch on our site–and the forever imitated but finally inimitable brilliance of Field’s distinctive voice.
Dennis Perrin for The Crterion Collection:

The Bank Dick has no real plot but plenty of situations. The action is determined by Fields’ character, Egbert Sousé, the resident know-it-all buffoon of Lompoc. Sousé stumbles from home to bar (tantalizingly dubbed The Black Pussy) and all points in between, stopping now and then to pass on useless advice and tell tall tales. He is a pathetic, bad-tempered figure who curses everyone under his alcohol-scented breath—everyone, that is, save Joe the bartender (played by the positively restrained Shemp Howard, the intellectual’s Stooge) who patiently administers Sousé’s medicine.
The Bank Dick, written by Fields under the nom de plume Mahatma Kane Jeeves, contains many of the same themes found in his short films: the hectoring family, small-town puritanism, irritating children, the love of drink and smoke. (There is also the now-troubling ethnic stereotype, here in the guise of the Shufflin’ Hollywood Negro who, in his desire to draw money from his account, practically scares Fields to death.) These themes served Fields well, not only in this film, but in most of his better work. And what makes the comedy unique, especially for its time, is that Fields grants no one moral high ground. Everyone has an agenda, is on the take, is insipid or simply meddlesome; the worst character traits usually belong to Fields himself. Although this style of comedy is sometimes tried today (the best recent example was Seinfeld, part brainchild of Larry David, a truly dark absurdist who never met a protaganist he seemed to like), rarely is it done with the subtle malice of which Fields was a master.

More from Roger Ebert, Bosley Crowther, Adam Charles (Film School Rejects), Jeff Stafford (TCM), Jeffrey M. Anderson (Combustible Celluloid), and a quick capsule from Dave Kehr.

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