It's a Gift (Norman Z. McLeod, 1934, USA)

Along with The Bank DickIt's a Gift is commonly cited as one of W.C. Fields' best films. Made by director Norman Z. McLeod, who had some prior experience with the Marx Brothers in directing Monkey Business (1931) and Horse Feathers (1932), the film incorporates several Fields' earlier sketches from the vaudeville and silent film worlds and unites them in a single narrative. Fields plays Harold Bissonette (as he reminds us "pronounced bis-on-ay"), an everyman who is henpecked by his wife (Kathleen Howard) and runs a grocery store. He dreams of moving out to California and buying an orange farm. When a relative passes away, leading Harold to a large sum of money, he decides to take his chance and go off.

The film clocks in at a mere hour, and manages to pack in some of Fields best set pieces, including the film's opening at the grocery store with an angry customer looking for kumquats. The gag with Fields sleeping on the back porch, the milk, "Carl LaFong", and the picnic on a wealthy California house's lawn are also great. While some gags drag on for a bit too long (the shaving scene at the beginning of the film comes to mind), overall the film is remarkably dynamic. 

What makes the film stand out is the theme at the core - an everyman seeking to escape his life of everyday drudgery and looking for a better future. The "twist" ending is another great moment in the film. Fields' films tend to work the best when he is front and center, and when his curmudgeonly character is giving a somewhat sympathetic motivation. Interestingly, David Lynch is a huge fan of this film, and one can see the film's influence on him with its absurdist sense of humor. Highly recommended for fans of comedy.



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