My first introduction to W.C. Fields was through “The Bank Dick,” and I only ever remember Fields being a rambling, aimless Mr. Magoo-like character that left little to no impression on me. It painted my perspective of Fields as an insult comedian on the same level as Grucho Marx or Rodney Dangerfield while still having a slight flare for visual comedy. This perspective changed entirely after I saw another one of Fields’ movies, “It’s a Gift.”
The W.C. Fields in this is film is practically the polar opposite of the Fields I remember from “The Bank Dick” – quiet, low-tempered and rarely feels like the star of the show. While Fields still plays the main character, the middle-aged Harold Bissonette, he basically plays the straight man to an entire world that seems to go out of its way to screw with him. He has a nagging wife that is never satisfied, two kids that do not care about the world around them, he runs a small grocery store that is bombarded with angry or self-destructive customers, and his one employee is as stupid as he is sleepy. Most of this hour-long movie is little comedic vignettes as Harold becomes the center of bad luck and even worse timing.
From trying to shave in the morning at the same time his daughter is trying to put on makeup, to dealing with a blind and mostly-deaf customer while being yelled at by someone demanding something he doesn’t even have, to Harold simply trying to get some sleep, everyone and everything goes out of its way to make Harold’s life nothing but misery. And yet he hardly ever complains. He doesn’t whine or get angry, he merely accepts that this is the way the world works for him. Some of the funnier bits in the film are Field’s nonchalant and accepting reactions to all the chaos that befalls him, like he’s achieved a state of inner peace among the chaos.
Most of the sequences in “It’s a Gift” are lifted straight from W.C. Fields’ vaudeville routines, but each of them feel wholly unique and contribute to the larger story at play, as Harold trades in his life in the bustling crazy city for a quiet one where he can focus on just growing oranges. These are some of the best visual gags outside of a Charlie Chaplin film I’ve ever seen, and each one provides consistent laughs, with the visual jokes continually building off each other.
There’s a lot of charm and heart in “It’s a Gift” that makes me appreciate W.C. Fields far more than I did. While his visual gags are non-stop and string together nicely, his demeanor and attitude provides a pleasant contrast that never grows tiresome. While the story is bare-bones, the film works best as a series of vignettes tied together by a loose thread. For a film just barely over an hour, it sure manages to pack in a lot of comedy.
Final Grade: B+