#319) The Bank Dick (1940)

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#319) The Bank Dick (1940)

OR “Without Interest”

Directed by Edward Cline

Written by Mahatma Kane Jeeves (aka W.C. Fields)

Class of 1992

The Plot: Egbert Sousé (W.C. Fields) is always on the lookout for the next get-rich-quick scheme, and would rather spend time at the local saloon than with his family. After conning his way onto a film shoot that has very little to do with the plot, Egbert inadvertently thwarts a bank robbery and gets a job as the bank’s security guard (a “bank dick”, if you will). After meeting a con man (Russell Hicks), Egbert convinces his future son-in-law Og Oggilby (Grady Sutton) to invest in Beefsteak Mining. Og takes out $500 from the bank with the intention of returning it once his bonus check arrives in five days, which means keeping bank auditor J. Pinkerton Snoopington (Franklin Pangborn) away for the time being. Hilary ensues…eventually.

Why It Matters: The NFR praises Fields as well as the supporting cast, and explains Fields’ longevity, though admit he is “an acquired taste”. There’s also an essay by Fields expert Randy Skretvedt.

But Does It Really?: I couldn’t have put it better than the NFR does: W.C. Fields is an acquired taste, and having now seen all three of his NFR entries, I’m just not acquiring it. Part of it is how dated Fields’ persona of a henpecked, conniving alcoholic has become, and part of it is the slower pace of his comedy style. Also keep in mind Fields was 60 when he made “The Bank Dick”, so his comic sensibilities are of a different generation than, say, Laurel & Hardy or the Marx Brothers. Of course it’s pointless for me to overanalyze a movie like “The Bank Dick” or take it too seriously. Ultimately, movies like this are here for entertainment, and I just wasn’t entertained. Fields’ work should be recognized by the NFR, and “The Bank Dick” is certainly the most polished of his three inducted films, so I’m willing to give it a pass. But do we really need the other two?

Shout Outs: Director Edward Cline restages a few bits that he co-created with his former collaborator Buster Keaton; the chase scene in particular borrows from “Sherlock Jr.” In addition, Egbert briefly references “Gone with the Wind”, not to mention the sections of dialogue lifted directly from previous Fields film “It’s a Gift”.

Everybody Gets One: Most of the supporting cast, notably Shemp Howard, six years away from re-joining the Three Stooges to replace his brother Jerry (aka Curly).

Wow, That’s Dated: Standard antiquated jokes about mother-in-laws and alcoholism, but there’s also plenty of old-timey jargon like “boondoggling”, and “jabbernowl”. But sadly, all of this takes a backseat to Egbert’s reference to “a little colored midget”. God help us all.

Seriously, Oscars?: Another busy year for the Oscars, “The Bank Dick” didn’t get a single nomination. The only Universal films that managed a nod were the forgotten “The Boys from Syracuse” and “The Invisible Man Returns”.

Other notes

  • Since completing “It’s a Gift” in 1934, Fields’ health had been in decline from years of alcoholism. When his health prevented him from making movies, he resorted to radio, trading barbs with Charlie McCarthy on “The Chase and Sanborn Hour”. Fields eventually became healthy enough to star in such films as “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man” with McCarthy and “My Little Chickadee” with Mae West. Because of the success of those two films, Fields was given complete creative control over “The Bank Dick”.
  • Perhaps the film’s most obscure reference: W.C. Fields chose the alias “Mahatma Kane Jeeves” for his script, based on a cliché line from drawing-room plays of the day; “My hat, my cane, Jeeves.”
  • The film’s setting of Lompoc is a real town near Santa Barbara, California. The town was frustrated, however, when “The Bank Dick” was released, because it is referred throughout the movie as “Lom-puck” as opposed to “Lom-poke”.
  • Doesn’t replacing a director violate all kinds of guild regulations? Good thing Clint Eastwood isn’t around.
  • As much as I don’t care for Fields, I do admire his physical comedy. I hope I’m that coordinated when I’m 60.
  • It needs to be pointed out that one of the bank robbers’ names is “Filthy McNasty”. Carry on.
  • “I never smoked a cigarette until I was nine.” Ho boy.
  • There’s only one black person in the entire movie and he’s basically a poor-man’s Rochester?
  • The only other comedian I can think of that had a persona this unlikable without being the butt of the joke is Rodney Dangerfield. Maybe it’s the delivery.
  • The $500 loan Oggilby takes out would be roughly $9000 today. Now that’s a bonus check!
  • Shoutout to Mickey Finn, the crooked Chicago bartender in the early 1900s whom “slipping a Mickey” is named after.
  • Had Fields lived long enough, I suspect he would have successfully made the transition to television. Snoopington’s already his Mr. Mooney.
  • Snoopington’s glasses break in a bank? That’s not fair. That’s not fair at all. There was time now. There was all the time I needed…
  • I will admit that the chase finale is pretty funny. At long last Egbert is someone to sympathize with, and the physical stunts throughout (aided by an uptick in the editing tempo) help make the ending far funnier than anything else in the movie.
  • And as always, Fields’ character is saved by several Deus ex Machinas in the end. But don’t worry, there’s still one more joke about his alcoholism to keep you laughing into the end credits.

Legacy

  • “The Bank Dick” was a critical and financial success in 1940, and Fields followed-up with one final starring vehicle: 1941’s “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break”. Unfortunately, his alcoholism caused his health to deteriorate again, and his final film roles were brief cameos. W.C. Fields died of a gastric hemorrhage on Christmas Day, 1946.
  • Don’t let my dislike of Fields deter you; Fields has been the subject of tributes, homages, and several biographies over 70 years since his passing. He even has a biopic with Rod Steiger!

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