#20) So’s Your Old Man (1926)
OR “Never Give a Silent an Even Break”
Directed by Gregory La Cava
Written by J. Clarkson Miller. Adaptation by Howard Emmett Rogers. Based on the story “Mr. Bisbee’s Princess” by Julian Street.
Class of 2008
Here’s the whole thing!
The Plot: Sam Bisbee (W.C. Fields) is an unsuccessful inventor with a long-suffering wife (Marcia Harris) and a daughter (Kittens Reichert) who is trying to marry into high society. After a failed demonstration of his unbreakable windshield, he contemplates suicide on the train ride home. He thinks better of it and befriends a suicidal woman (Alice Joyce) who turns out to be a runaway princess. Bisbee’s small town is turned upside down when the Princess Lescaboura arrives and tries to help Sam out.
Why It Matters: The NFR points out that while Fields’ verbal talents were better suited for sound films, his training as a juggler and the direction by La Cava help make “So’s Your Old Man” Fields’ most memorable silent film. An essay by silent film expert Steve Massa is mostly a Fields biography.
But Does It Really?: While I agree with the NFR that Mr. Fields’ best work was in the sound era, I don’t agree that this film belongs on the Registry. We have two W.C. Fields sound pictures coming up on this list – “It’s a Gift” and “The Bank Dick” – and I think that’s all we need from Mr. Fields. My favorite parts of “So’s Your Old Man” are the verbal jokes, but who wants to read a funny movie? Sorry William Claude, but this spot could have gone to someone else.
Everybody Gets One: Unfortunately W.C. Fields is pretty much the only actor in this film who survived the transition from silent pictures to talkies. Special mention to William “Shorty” Blanche, Fields’ vaudeville partner who reprises his role as the caddy for the film’s golf routine.
Wow, That’s Dated: Kenneth is described as being in “the ukulele stage of calf love”, which may be the most ‘20s thing I’ve ever heard. Also dated are cars that were built to take multiple rams into a tree, and references to veterans of the Spanish-American War. Also, the title.
Take a Shot: The phrase “So’s your old man” is said three times in the film; twice via title card, and once mouthed by Bisbee.
- Maybe it’s Fields’ strength as a writer, but this film has a lot of title cards.
- What part of any of this requires Bisbee to not wear a shirt?
- Geez, these silent films really love suicide as a comic device.
- Why the contraction of princess to “pr’ncess”? You’re not saving any time with that one.
- Bisbee’s golf game is a recreation of one of Fields’ best-known vaudeville routine. It’s funny, but it takes longer than an Art Carney bit.
- When all is said and done, the final chase scene is under-cranked to perfection. Take note, Benny Hill.
- While I’m researching W.C. Fields, does anyone know if he actually said “Never work with animals or children”? He struggles with a mare in this film, and I wonder if this is where he came up with the phrase.
- W. C. Fields starred in a sound remake of “So’s Your Old Man” eight years later called “You’re Telling Me!”
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