Film: The Bank Dick

W.C. Fields in his native environment.

Boy in bank: Mommy, doesn't that man have a funny nose?
Mother in bank: You mustn't make fun of the gentleman, Clifford. You'd like to have a nose like that full of nickels, wouldn't you?

The Bank Dick is a 1940 film directed by Edward Cline, written by and starring W.C. Fields. Fields is Egbert Sousť, a bumbling, alcohol-sodden, minimally employed father in Lompoc, CA, who is cordially despised by his wife, mother-in-law, and two daughters. One day, quite by accident, Egbert stumbles across a bank robbery in progress, and is mistakenly believed by the townspeople to have subdued one of the bank robbers and recovered the $50,000 they got away with. The bank manager rewards him with a job as a security officer at the bank. Egbert convinces Og the bank clerk, also his would-be son-in-law, to steal $500 from the bank to buy some shady shares in a silver mine. Egbert and Og panic when the bank examiner shows up immediately after they buy the shares—but the other bank robber shows up again as well.

The Bank Dick is commonly regarded as a highlight of Fields' career. It was one of his last starring roles, as his severe alcoholism (that wide face and bulbous nose weren't just for the movies), led to a swift decline for his career before his alcohol-related death in 1946.

Una Merkel plays Egbert's daughter Myrtle. Shemp Howard, who a few years after this film would rejoin his brothers in The Three Stooges, plays Joe the bartender.


  • Accidental Hero: One bank robber clubs another over the head and then runs off. Egbert sits on a bench right in front of the knocked-out bank robber. The other robber randomly flings his gun, which hits Egbert, knocking him over and onto the knocked-out robber. The police then swoop in and assume Egbert knocked out the bank robber and got the money. Egbert eagerly plays along with this.
  • Alcohol Hic: The director, hopelessly drunk on the set, does this.
  • The Alcoholic: Egbert, who appears perpetually drunk, and has to ask the bartender whether he (Egbert) spent $20 in the bar last night.
  • As You Know: Agatha greets her daughter Myrtle with "Hello, daughter".
  • Awful Wedded Life: Egbert clearly loathes his wife and family, and they hate him back.
  • Blatant Lies: Egbert does this all the time, like when he weaves a ridiculous story of how he supposedly took down the bank robbers.
  • Blind Without 'Em: See Dropped Glasses below.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Egbert's bratty little daughter Elsie, who does things like whack him over the head with a director's bullhorn when Egbert won't put her in the movie.
  • Crushing Handshake: Inverted when the bank manager gives Egbert a "hearty handclasp" which consists of limply placing his fingers in Egbert's hand. Played straight when the con artist crushes Egbert's hand with a handshake.
  • Dirty Old Man
    Egbert: I'm very fond of children, girl children around 18 or 20.
  • Drives Like Crazy: A bank robber grabs Egbert and forces Egbert to drive the getway car. This turns out to be a mistake, as Egbert goes on a wildly careening ride through the town and the countryside, ending up nearly going over a cliff.
  • Dropped Glasses: After finding out that the bank examiner can't see anything without his glasses, Egbert tries to stop the audit by knocking the examiner's glasses off and "accidentally" stepping on them. He's dismayed to see the examiner keeps about a dozen spares in his briefcase.
  • Eye Take: Og gets off an epic one when the bank examiner, who supposedly is laid up in bed after Egbert slipped him a mickey, shows up at the bank. It provides the page illustration for Eye Take.
  • Fainting: Og does this two different times when he sees the bank examiner.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The local bar that Egbert patronizes is called "The Black Pussy".
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    • Egbert urges the bank examiner to "be happy and gay!"
    • The title might be an example of this, as "dick" is not a word people use to mean "detective" anymore.
  • It Is Pronounced Tro PAY: Egbert "Sousť" has to keep correcting people with "It's pronounced Sous-Ay! Accent grave over the e!"note 
  • One Head Taller: The actor in the movie Egbert directs looms over his actress co-star, leading Egbert to ask "Is she standing in a hole?"
  • Punny Name: All of them, starting with the credits, in which Fields's screenwriting credit is hidden under the pen name "Mahatma Kane Jeeves" ("my hat and my cane, Jeeves"). His character is called Egbert Sousť—"souse" is a slang term for an alcoholic. The bank examiner is named J. Pinkerton Snoopington.
  • Random Events Plot: A hallmark of Fields's movies. Egbert is drinking at the bar when he meets a Hollywood producer, and the producer, believing Egbert's tall tales of being an old film director, hires him to shoot the movie that's being filmed in town. After doing that for a while Egbert walks off the set for the bar, and his movie job isn't mentioned again until the end, when he gets a check for his script idea. Then there's Egbert being mistaken for a hero and getting a job as a security officer at the bank, which sets up some comic business but doesn't really have anything to do with the rest of the story. There's also the arrival of the bank examiner after Egbert convinces Og to steal from the till, which also goes nowhere, as the bank robber comes back and steals from the bank before the examiner ever looks at the books.
  • Removable Steering Wheel: When asked by the bank robber in the back seat to give him the wheel, Egbert matter-of-factly pulled it off the steering column and gave it to him. This sequence paid homage to the Mack Sennett/Keystone Kops and Hal Roach/Our Gang comedies of the 1920s and 1930s. Model T Fords were generally used for these comic chases.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Pretty darn cynical, as was typical of Fields' movies. His family, which holds him in contempt, suddenly loves him when they come into a lot of money at the end.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Egbert lures the bank examiner into the bar and asks Joe the bartender if "Michael Finn" has been in that day. Joe takes the hint and prepares a cocktail that leaves the bank examiner violently ill.
  • Smoking Is Cool: After being incorrectly identified as a hero in his small town, Fields entertains some kids with some cigarette tricks. He sends them off, saying "I'll teach you when you're older! Didn't take it up myself 'til I was nine..."
  • Stealing from the Till: It's bad enough that Egbert falls for the con man's obvious con, but worse when he talks dimwitted Og into stealing $500 from the bank to buy the bonds, with Og thinking that he'll put the money back in four days when he gets his bonus. Of course, the bank examiner shows up immediately.
  • Suicide as Comedy: Egbert's family bemoans his shiftless, scandalous nature. His eldest daughter melodramatically wails that she'll commit suicide by starving to death, sobbing "It isn't hard..." then continuing in a cheerful chirp "I tried it yesterday!"
  • Title Drop: Skinner the bank manager says that Egbert will be the bank security officer, or "bank dick".
  • Too Important to Walk: Egbert talks his way into taking over the job of a falling-down-drunk movie director. Being carried around in a sedan chair is apparently one of the job perks.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Egbert is an alcoholic and a liar, who encourages children to smoke, who gets his future son-in-law to steal from the bank. He gets a Happy Ending in which he becomes filthy rich.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Egbert is about to throw a planter at his bratty little daughter when his wife stops him.