Today I watched another movie that I knew nothing about, but fell in love with. I watch The Bank Dick, directed by Edward F. Cline in 1940. It was written by W.C. Fields (who stars in it, obviously), but under an alias - Mahatma Kane Jeeves (as in "My hat, my cane, Jeeves!"). I know that W.C. Fields is famous, but I have never seen any of his movies today. I was really blown away by how funny it was! It was a short little film, but everything in it was hilarious and witty, and I loved the climatic car chase at the end.
The film is about Egbert Sousé ("With an accent grave over the 'e'"), a drunken, surly man who accidentally stops a bank robber and in turn, is promoted to be a security guard in the bank. He also, when not drinking and having things thrown at him by his daughter, he takes over directing a film, as well. He advices his older daughter's boyfriend Og Oggilby to embezzle money from the bank he works at and invest them into some questionable stock. Going against all 1940's film convention (which punishes drunk, stupid, or criminal characters), Egbert is living it up in luxury at the end of the film. I loved that bit of rule-breaking. It was fun, but it also showed that Fields must have been considered great (or he had enough power) to not have to worry about convention.
I just loved Fields' total hedonism. The plot sounds all over the place, but it works so well! It doesn't matter so much because the character is so drunk and rambling that it makes sense that the plot is, too. In Ebert's essay, he writes a lot about Fields - it's so great, but too much to quote all of it (go read it, there are so many good stories and lots of information!). In essence, Fields was his characters. Ebert sums him up, writing, "He is unloved, he detests life, he is hung over, he wants a drink, he is startled by sudden movements and loud noises, he has no patience for fools, everyone is a fool, and middle-class morality is a conspiracy against the man who wants to find surcease in alcoholic bliss. These are not the feelings of his characters; they are his own feelings" (Great Movies II, 43). I think it all just fit together perfectly. It was funny because it felt real, and because it made a certain sort of sense to me.
The movie is incredibly short, only an hour and twelve minutes, but it had so many funny moments. Nothing is explained very well, but I just found myself able to accept any weirdness and movie on. I loved the scene when Fields is at the bar drinking absinthe, and he leaves with a man. There are four glasses of absinthe still on the bar, and he gathers them up and takes them out to the car, comforting the bartender by saying, "I'll bring the glasses back later today." I loved when he is out walking to the bar and notices an old lady in a stalled car. Her driver seems to be doing a fine job of repairing it, but he shoves himself in the way, eventually deciding to just unscrew something or other and - the entire engine falls out of the car onto the road. And then he walks off, into his local bar for another round. I laughed so much when during the car chase, the robber has a gun pointed at him and instructs him to drive the getaway car, and he narrates about the local scenery and haunts as he drives. The whole movie is just brilliant little moments like this that are so funny. It doesn't matter so much if the plot makes no sense - you put is aside because it's too funny to care otherwise.
If you like comedy at all, you really have to rent this. Its so hysterical, but short enough to be watched anytime you please. Ebert pretentiously asserts that one cannot love film until they have seen W.C. Fields' movies. I think people can have strong emotions about film before that, especially since it's not as though he's particularity well-known right now. You can love film perfectly fine and not have seen this movie. But you will love film much more after you have seen it. I love watching older comedies, because they are so timeless. Nothing in this movies requires a 1940's mentality to make it funny - it's great whenever you see it. Ah, but this is coming from me, who right now, cannot even look at the movie poster for this film and not laugh :)
I really think that everyone should rent this movie and check it out. Let me know what you think if you do!
Have any thoughts on The Bank Dick? Share them in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on The Bank Dick
(looks like you can watch this on Fancast, as well!)