Turner Classic Movies has an evening of W.C. Fields comedies today, and any of them are worth checking out. (For instance, the great The Bank Dick is on as I type this, at 5:50 Los Angeles time.) But at 6:30 out here -- 9:30 PM in the east -- they're showing my favorite of the W.C. Fields comedies, It's a Gift. It may not be his most famous title, but I think it's one of his best, if not best. I'm not alone -- the movie was added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 2010.
(TCM follows the movie at 8 PM L.A. time with the also terrific You Can't Cheat an Honest Man, that co-stars -- as readers of these pages know -- my fave Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, the latter of whom Fields had a famous, long-standing radio "feud.")
It's a Gift is filled with particularly great set-pieces. Most notable is when Mr. Muckle the blind and hard-of-hearing man comes into Fields' small grocery store while he's trying to sell a customer kumquats. (One of my favorite lines of all Fields movies is when he is writing down the order and has trouble with the spelling of "kumquat". Eventually the customer gets so frustrated that Fields can't get the "q-u-a-t" part correct that he blurts out in frustrations "Quats! Quats!" To which a puzzled Fields responds, "Two quats??") Let's just say that in the midst of all this sales and spelling confusion, dear Mr. Muckle wanders around with his cane, trying to buy some chewing gum, as a table piled high with light bulbs stands in the way.
There's also the wonderful sequence when Fields, playing Harold Bissonette ("pronounced 'Biss-o-nay") is trying to take a nap on his second-story porch and pretty much everything conspires against him, including an insurance salesman looking for a "Carl LaFong" and a mother upstairs and daughter downstairs are shouting to one another in an effort to make plans. The phrase, "I don't care which, I don't care either," gets repeated a lot.
And ultimately, there is the long drive to California where he's bought an orange range, and his family thinks he's been swindled and ruined all their lives.
Anyway, hopefully you'll be able to watch, or at least record it for later viewing.
In the meantime, if you miss it, here's the scene on the porch.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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