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DVD Review: It’s A Gift

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Starring W.C. Fields, Kathleen Howard, Jean Rouverol, and Julian Madison
Written by Jack Cunningham and W.C. Fields, from the play by J.P. McEvoy
Directed by Norman Z. McLeod
NR, 73 min, 1934, USA

Local grocery owner Harold Bissonette (W.C. Fields) dreams of moving to California and running an orange grove, but is constantly thwarted by his nagging wife and annoying children. When an uncle dies, he inherits the money necessary, but the orange grove turns out to be a bust.[1]

David St. Hubbins, lead singer of the band Spinal Tap, once noted that, “It’s such a fine line between stupid, and clever.” On the clever side, you have a band that can’t find the stage and an album cover that’s completely black, on the other side you have the W.C. Fields comedy It’s a Gift, which feels more like an exercise in annoyance than an actual comedy the audience is supposed to enjoy. Fields spends most of the film trying to do menial tasks such as sleeping or shaving, but he has to work around annoyance after annoyance. He mutters, “Yes, dear” over and over again, and is clearly frustrated by the lack of control he has over his daily routine, which probably explains why he buys the orange grove without asking his wife. This, of course, turns out to be a shack surrounded by some ground that might grow weeds.[ADBLOCKHERE]

I assume the sum total of all these annoyances is supposed to equal comedy, but it turns out to just be annoying. You feel some sympathy for the man, but not as much as you do for yourself. Fields has created his own private circle of hell by marrying a nosy shrew, fathering little brat children, and trying to take a nap outside in broad daylight, so our sympathy can only go so far, but what have we done as an audience to be dragged down with him? Is it our fault we’re making the effort to watch old comedies? What have we done to deserve this sort of headache?[2] Nothing, that I can see.

To be fair, a film that relies this heavily on slapstick is not generally my sort of film and I’m having a pretty bad day already, so I may not be in the best mood to watch this, but I simply cannot see how this is a highly-regarded film. Perhaps it has not aged well and was much more enjoyable in 1934, but I doubt it.

[1] If this doesn’t seem to be much of a premise it’s because, well, it isn’t. Fortunately it only takes 73 minutes to conclude.

[2] And I do now have a headache, actually.

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About Lucas McNelly

  • RogerMDillon

    “It’s such a fine line between stupid, and clever.” And this review proves that.

    Just because you didn’t find the film funny doesn’t make it stupid. And from your last paragraph, it doesn’t sound like your opinion is one to listen to regarding this film, so I would suggest readers completely disregard it.

    The film is filled with very funny sequences and lines that I don’t want to give away.

  • http://lmcnelly15.blogspot.com Lucas McNelly

    Likewise, just because you found it funny doesn’t make it clever.

    It’s nearly impossible for a film built on one character constantly being annoyed and grumbling to have any sort of universal appeal. You loved it. I hated it, but to disregard an opinion just because you don’t agree is a mistake.

  • Duane

    Couldn’t disagree with you more there Lucas. Apparently, most professional critics disagree with you, too.

    I own a copy of It’s a Gift. Watch it at least once a year just to re-experience how goddam funny it is.

  • RogerMDillon

    If you don’t get the Fields character, that’s your loss, but he made a career out of it, and considering we’re talking about a film from 1934, it obviously had some sort of universal appeal or you wouldn’t have found it over 70 years later.

    I never said the film was clever; I said it was funny. And I’m not disregarding your review because I don’t agree with it; I’m disregarding it because all your review was able to establish is that you have a poor sense of humor.

    Duane, let me know the next time you are showing it. I’ll bring the kumquats and chewing gum.

  • Sal B

    One of the things I like best about Fields and “It’s a Gift” is that his comedy hasn’t aged… it’s still as funny today as it was in 1934, quite a feat! Perhaps equalled only by Buster Keaton’s wonderful, athletic silent slapstick.

    What’s funny besides slapstick in Fields’ work are the wonderful, snide aside dialog comments such as, “Og Ogilby. Sounds like a bubble in a bathtub”, which are understood by adults and older children but not by younger ones, so double entendres, etc., could get by the Hays office.

    Sorry if you didn’t like the film, but I can’t disagree more with your review. “It’s a Gift” is one of the funniest comedies ever committed to celluloid.

    FWIW, JMHO, YMMV,
    Sal B
    Los Angeles