Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (Edward F. Cline, 1941, USA)

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break is a later career film by W.C. Fields, who wrote the screenplay for the film. The film, like several of Fields' other later films, exemplifies the increasingly meta approach the auteur was taking to comedy at this time. The story is attributed to "Otis Criblecoblis" (W.C. Fields), and W.C. Fields plays himself in the film. Fields is pitching a new script to the studio heads. As he does this, we are transported into the world of the script, where Fields and his niece Gloria Jean (also playing herself) land in an exotic location populated by a beautiful young naive girl (Susan Miller) and her mother (Margaret Dumont). Fields attempts to marry the wealthy mother but Gloria Jean dissuades him. Throughout the film, there are several references to the film industry itself, and the changes it was undergoing. In one particularly memorable line, Fields remarks "This scene is supposed to be in a saloon, but the censor cut it out!" 

The original treatment for the film was so surreal that the studio originally balked at making it, and had much of it cut out. Much of the film is given to Gloria Jean, who is allowed to perform several musical numbers. These musical numbers are fine, but one feels that they are taking away from Fields' screen time and the overall comedy of the film. Fields was becoming somewhat unhinged and very fed up with the studio system here, and it shows. The film is not so thinly veiled attack on the whole enterprise. The film is maybe not the greatest, but there is enough absurdism here - including a man in a gorilla suit, a wild car chase, and other various breakings of the fourth wall. Worth watching for fans of Fields and fans of absurdist comedy.


6/10

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