Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941)

From the sublime to the ridiculous with another of today’s library loans. I’ve seen another review compare this film with Adaptation, which I thought was a smart draw indeed; I can’t think of many if any other films you could make an apt comparison with. The pitch session for this must’ve been great: W.C. Fields, fading comedian whose last film did poor business, trying to convince his studio to make a strange comedy about a fading comedian called W.C. Fields, whose last film did poor business, trying to convince his studio to make a strange comedy… Fortunately the real Universal were more easily convinced than the fictional Esoteric Pictures, and the end result was a suitably catastrophic end to Fields’ days as a film star (his few subsequent film role were bit parts); apparently the released film was recut by the studio, in which case the original must’ve been weirder still. I first saw this some years ago on a Cinematheque program with You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man and three of his two-reelers, and thought it was one of the most inspired things I’d ever seen; revisiting it at last on the small screen, it didn’t seem quite so whacked out as I remembered, and I suspect it’s one of those films that needs an audience in a theatre for best effect. Still, I don’t see any need to really revise my earlier opinion, cos it is still terrific; considering the ways in which so many other performers’ heydays came crashing to a halt, at least Fields got to burn out in better fashion than most.

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