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Film / Never Give a Sucker an Even Break

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Receptionist: Some day you'll drown in a vat of whiskey!
W.C. Fields: Drown in a vat of whiskey. Death, where is thy sting?
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Never Give a Sucker an Even Break is a 1941 film directed by Edward Cline, starring W.C. Fields.

In it Fields plays...W.C. Fields, a star at Esoteric Studios. (He's introduced gazing at a billboard advertising himself in his previous film, The Bank Dick.) He has a nice, Gloria Jean (played by, yep, Gloria Jean), who is a budding musical star. Studio producer Franklin Pangborn (no prizes for guessing the actor's name) is trying to mold Gloria into a star, while growing increasingly exasperated at the eccentricities of Fields.

Fields has an appointment with Pangborn to go over his new script. The script that Fields reads for Pangborn is a completely crazy story in which his character falls out of the observation deck of an airplane—no, really—and falls thousands of feet onto an isolated Russian mountaintop mansion, where abides a gorgeous young blonde and her forbidding shrew of a mother. This story-within-a-story takes up a significant chunk of the film.

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W.C. Fields's last starring role. He spent the last five years of his life in radio and making a few movie cameos before he died of alcoholism and cirrhosis in 1946.


Tropes:

  • The Alcoholic: Fields plays his usual hard drinker. When his flask falls out of a plane, he jumps after it.
  • Animated Credits Opening: Starts with a cartoon of Fields, bulbous alcoholic red nose and all. His prodigious belly bursts out of his suit and forms the background for the title.
  • The Artifact: A scene early in the movie establishes that Gloria's mother, Fields's sister, is a trapeze artist about to perform a difficult stunt. Fields tells her to be careful. Nothing else comes of this. The story as Fields wrote it would have had Gloria's mother visited by The Plot Reaper when she dies doing the stunt, leaving Fields to be guardian to Gloria.
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  • As Himself: Fields as Fields, Gloria Jean as Gloria Jean (but she obviously wasn't Fields's niece), Pangborn as Pangborn.
  • Bedlah Babe: How the hot blonde in the mountaintop mansion is dressed.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall:
    • Fields talks to the audience when he's drinking an ice cream soda. See Frothy Mugs of Water below.
    • The film ends with Gloria dashing to the maternity hospital and making it there just after Fields climbs out of the car he wrecked. She says in an indulgent tone, "My uncle Bill," then looks straight at the camera and says "But I still love him."
  • The Cameo: Carlotta Monti, Fields's long-time mistress, plays Franklin Pangborn's receptionist.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Fields is waiting outside a store for Gloria when a woman asks for a ride to the maternity hospital. This starts the concluding sequence, a long crazy stunt-filled drive with Fields zooming through downtown Los Angeles at high speeds, causing mayhem and car accidents as he goes, causing his terrified passenger to faint in the back seat. The gag is, the woman isn't even pregnant; she was just delivering diapers.
  • Exact Words: Fields points at his menu in a diner and says "Is there any goulash on this menu?" The waitress then flicks something off of said menu and says "gravy."
  • Frothy Mugs of Water: When Fields drinks an ice-cream soda in a drugstore, he asides to the audience: "This scene's supposed to be in a saloon but the censor cut it out. It'll play just as well this way," even blowing the foam off his soda as one would a heady beer.
  • Grand Dame: The rich lady in the mountaintop mansion, as played by Margaret Dumont, who played roles like this several times for The Marx Brothers.
  • High-Class Glass: The snooty British guy on the plane, who says stuff like "I say" and "Steady on!"
  • Misplaced Wildlife: A gorilla in the craggy mountains of Central Asia.
  • Nested Story: Fields's script, with him falling out of the airplane and onto the remote mountain house of the rich lady and her beautiful daughter, takes up the whole middle part of the movie. Every so often there's a cut from the nested story back to Pangborn in his office expressing incredulity as the script gets crazier.
  • No More for Me: Fields throws away his flask after coming face-to-face with a gorilla on the mountaintop.
    Fields: Last time it was Pink Elephants.
  • Random Events Plot: Typical of Fields's movies. There's the film studio plot, which has a lot of loopy asides like Fields's battle with a rude waitress at the diner. There's the story-within-a-story that has all kinds of goofy stuff like Fields falling from airplane cruising altitude onto a mountaintop mansion, where he's saved by falling onto a mattress. The film ends with Fields on a crazy madcap drive to the hospital with a woman he thinks is pregnant.
  • Surrealism: There's a plane with an observation deck. That Fields falls out of.
  • Stealth Insult
    Fields: Don't you want to be smart?
    Gloria: No, I want to be like you.
  • Take That!: "You want to grow up and be dumb, like ZaSu Pitts?"
  • Think of the Censors: Fields blames the censors when he has to drink a milkshake instead of a beer. See Frothy Mugs of Water above.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Two young boys at the movie set who seem to have little to do other than spit cherry pits and throw bricks at Fields and Pangborn.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: A completely random gag has two guys on the movie set in German army uniforms goose-stepping around.
  • Variable Terminal Velocity: Fields drops a flask of liquor out of an airplane. Horrified, he jumps after it. Naturally, he somehow catches it.
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: Pangborn is appalled at the completely crazy script that Fields brings to his office.
    "This script is an insult to a man's intelligence - even mine...It's impossible, inconceivable, incomprehensible, and besides that, it's no good. And as for the continuity, it's terrible."
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