William Claude Dukenfield, a.k.a. W.C. Fields (18801946), was an American comedian, actor, juggler and writer, most famous during the 1930s and 1940s. He made several classic comedy films, but was also well known for his radio performances with Edgar Bergen's dummy Charlie McCarthy.
Fields is best known for his comic persona as a misanthropic alcoholic who generally disliked dogs, women and children, an image that was a bit Truth in Television. His films have been praised for their clever jokes and anti-sentimental comedy, which made him a cult actor even to this day. John Cleese said Fields was doing Pythonesque things long before Monty Python. The Bank Dick (1941), has been Vindicated by History as one of the best comedy films of all time.
Fields is endlessly quotable, being a funny comedian as he is. Not all of it is safe for work though.
W.C. Fields films on TV Tropes:
- So's Your Old Man (1926)
- Alice in Wonderland (1933) — Fields plays Humpty Dumpty, which was later caricatured in the Silly Symphony "Mother Goose Goes Hollywood" (1938)
- It's a Gift (1934)
- David Copperfield (1935) — Fields plays Mr. Micawber
- The Bank Dick (1940)
- Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941)
Tropes associated with W.C. Fields:
- The Alcoholic: Sadly Truth in Television. The last six years of his life don't feature very many performances because Fields was too busy drinking himself to death."Whilst traveling through Afghanistan, we lost our corkscrew. Had to live on food and water for several days." [My Little Chickadee, 1940]
- Butt-Monkey: Mostly Fields, though everybody gets his or her comeuppance.
- Child Hater: Considering how ill behaved the kids in those movies were, who couldn't but be on his side?
- Comedic Sociopathy
- Dark Comedy: In It's a Gift, Fields' character has a deaf and blind man visit his store. The customer smashes up everything while Fields desperately tries to tell him to sit down and don't move!
- Death by Irony: Fields died on his least favorite day of the year: Christmas. He seemed cheerful enough, though: a nurse came in to open the curtains, he smiled at her, put a "shh" finger to his lips, and died.
- Defiant to the End: In his last days, one of his friends was surprised to discover him reading the Bible, as he'd always had disdain for religion. Fields replied that he was looking for loopholes.
- Known for knocking Philadelphia and hating kids, while on his deathbed he allegedly asked his banker "Do I have enough money to buy a bicycle for every child in Philadelphia?" The banker said "Yes, easily!" and Fields said "...well, fuck 'em!"
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: He was a very dirty comic trapped in an era that didn't allow it to be put onscreen (much like Mae West, only she did find a way around this). But he did sneak the occasional joke past, like the several times in The Bank Dick where we see the titular dick entering a bar called The Black Pussy. (See also Visual Innuendo below for another dramatic example.)
- The Grinch: He despised Christmas.
- Removable Steering Wheel: In The Bank Dick, when asked by the thug in the back seat to give him the wheel, Egbert Souse (Fields) 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.
- Running Gag: Perhaps the most famous ever: Whenever his character goes outside or inside in The Fatal Glass Of Beer, which takes place during a snowstorm in the Canadian far north, he pauses in the door and says with great pathos: "And it ain't a fit night out ... for man nor beast." And EVERY TIME he gets a bucket of snow thrown in his face.
- Smoking Is Cool: In The Bank Dick, 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..."
- The Trickster
- Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist
- Visual Innuendo: A staggering moment in The Dentist where Fields, the dentist, is performing a difficult tooth extraction from an attractive woman. He winds up between her knees humping away trying to extract the tooth, as her high-heeled shoes point at the camera while she moans (with pain). And if that weren't enough, he eventually pulls her out of the chair, and they go staggering around the office with her legs wrapped around his waist. Eventually he pulls the tooth, whereupon the woman slides to the floor in a heap. Even in The Pre-Code Era, that was really pushing it.
- Volleying Insults: Fields revived his career in the late 1930s with his radio feud with Edgar Bergen's Charlie McCarthy character. McCarthy mocked Fields' penchant for drinking, while Fields mocked McCarthy's status as a wooden dummy.
- Would Hurt a Child: He kicks an infant in the film It's a Gift.