W.C. Fields is one of the more famous funny-men of the 1930s, so I’ve been wanting to check out his film work for quite a while. The other night I finally got a chance to do so with the 1934 film It’s a Gift. In the film, Fields — sometimes noted for an acerbic wit — plays a fairly sympathetic character, as a husband and father who is patient with his family despite having unappreciative children and a nagging wife (Kathleen Howard). Of course, the wife does have some validity in her assumptions that the husband is careless; when he comes into an inheritance, he promptly sells his store and buys an orange grove, sight unseen, and moves the family out to California to find their fortune.
It’s a Gift is an interestingly-structured film for a comedy. Running at a little under 70 minutes in length, you could almost cut off each individual 10-minute chunk and end up with a perfectly serviceable comedy sketch. Fields and director Norman Z. McLeod have a lot to be proud of in this film, as each segment of the story is quite funny in its own right, while seamlessly melding together for a film that’s both funny and just a little bit heartwarming.
Fields is the star, and it’s Fields who carries the entirety of the film. There are a few scenes in which some physical humor is given to another character — most notably Charles Sellon as a blind customer in the store — but what really sells the comedy in all cases is how Fields reacts. His expressions and remarks will crack anybody up.
The original movie poster gives nigh-equal billing to Baby LeRoy, a child actor of the era. It’s a little hard to imagine why, as his scenes are small and — though amusing — are no more so than any other scenes in the film, and once again it’s Fields reacting that makes them funny. Baby LeRoy could have been replaced with any other child actor and I doubt any modern viewer would have noticed. I can only assume there must have been some cult following of the child back in the 1930s, to explain his prominent placement in the advertisement, but I don’t know.
But regardless of his toddling co-star, W.C. Fields shines in It’s a Gift, and it’s a film worth checking out for some laughs.