Here is a quote from a movie released in 1940:
Boy in bank: Mommy, doesn’t that man have a funny nose?
Mother in bank: You mustn’t make fun of the gentleman, Clifford. You’d like to have a nose like that full of nickels, wouldn’t you?
Whom the boy is referring to? (Hint: He isn’t JP Morgan.)
Anyone who has ever seen a comedy film by WC Fields would have no difficulty in answering the question.
The inimitable comedian, W.C. Fields plays Egbert Sousé, a lush who lives in a make-believe world, In the opening scene we see him falsely brag, “In the old Sennett days, I used to direct Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and the rest of ‘em.” (This movie’s director ‘Eddie Cline’ did co-direct several of Buster Keaton’s early short subjects.)
He is indigent and henpecked to boot.
Egbert at home:
Elsie Mae Adele Brunch Sousé: Shall I bounce a rock off his head?
Agatha Sousé: Respect your father, darling. What kind of a rock?
He supports his family whenever he can by winning radio contests. When a fleeing bank robber is knocked cold upon tripping over the park bench where Egbert sits, Sousé is hailed as a hero and offered the job of bank guard. The next day, he is approached by one J. Frothingham Waterbury (Russell Hicks), : I want to show you I’m honest in the worst way! He offers to sell Egbert shares in the Beefsteak Mines. Sousé raises the necessary money by convincing bank clerk Og Oggilby (Grady Sutton), the fiance of Egbert’s daughter Myrtle (Una Merkel), to “borrow” some funds from the bank. Of course Oggilby cannot resist the logic of a local hero however odd it may sound at first.
Egbert Sousé: My uncle, a balloon ascensionist, Effingham Hoofnagle, took a chance. He was three miles and a half up in the air. He jumped out of the basket of the balloon and took a chance of alighting on a load of hay.
Og Oggilby: Golly! Did he make it?
Egbert Sousé: Uh… no. He didn’t. Had he been a younger man, he probably would have made it. That’s the point. Don’t wait too long in life.
Sousé is all for seizing the day. He assures Og it isn’t really embezzling. He knows the mine is bound to pay off.
Besides In Egbert’s moral dictionary the word Embezzlent carries only six words and not a sentence.
Myrtle Sousé: [doing a crossword puzzle] What’s a six-letter word meaning “embezzlement”?
Mrs. Hermisillo Brunch: Prison.
Aggravations of all sorts Egbert has to face at home. In the Bank also matters do not help.
Egbert Sousé: Is that gun loaded?
Mother in bank: Certainly not! But I think you are!
With Fields playing the lead role we have inspired silliness, buffoonery and his special brand of delivery,- gags that cannot even have a leg to stand on in any other, which when taken together is still an absurd comedy but of the highest order. In The Back Dick he is at his best. It is his first solo starring role in a Universal Pictures film. Fields wrote the original screenplay, but credits himself with the nom de plume of Mahatma Kane Jeeves. He has no props as Mae West or Charlie McCarthy but it is no matter. In a little over one hour his comic genius presides over the town of Lompoc, Calif., He makes fun of everything sacred,-family, duty, hard work. Charity itself is suspect when WC Field lends a hand in fixing a stalled car. The film climaxes with one of the greatest slapstick, getaway car chase sequences in film history (a throw-back to Mack Sennett days – director Cline had been an actor in Sennett’s Keystone Kops). “The resale value of this car,” says Bill from the corner of his mouth, “is going to be practically nil when we get through with this trip.”The car chase has been imitated in numerous films, including Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc (1972).
‘The humor is both physical and intellectual. Fields was among the innovators of early sound films in using contemporary cultural references; yet the movie is not so tied to its era that its references have become obscure. As Fields’ style of quick-witted humor grew, the popularity of such low-brow comedians as El Brendel fell. There’s a nice supporting performance from Shemp Howard, but the film belongs to Fields’.(review- quoted from Richard Gilliam, All Movie Guide)
THE BANK DICK; original screen play by Mahatma Kane Jeeves; directed by Edward Cline for Universal Pictures.
Egbert Sousé . . . . . W. C. Fields
Agatha Sousé . . . . . Cora Witherspoon
Myrtle Sousé . . . . . Una Merkel
Elsie May Adele Brunch Sousé . . . . . Evelyn Del Rio
Mrs. Hermisillo Brunch . . . . . Jessie Ralph
J. Pinkerton Snoopington . . . . . Franklin Pangborn
Og Oggilby . . . . . Grady Sutton
Joe Guelpe . . . . . Shemp Howard
Mackley Q. Greene . . . . . Richard Purcell
J. Frothingham Waterbury . . . . . Russell Hicks
Mr. Skinner . . . . . Pierre Watkin
Filthy McNasty . . . . . Al Hill
Cozy Kochran . . . . . George Moran
A. Pismo Clam . . . . . Jack Norton
Francois . . . . . Reed Hadley
Miss Plupp . . . . . Heather Wilde
Doctor Stall . . . . . Harlan Briggs
Mr. Cheek . . . . . Bill Alston
* “Mahatma Kane Jeeves” is a play on words from old stage plays. “My hat, my cane, Jeeves!”
* The newspaper being read by Egbert Sousé is the Lompoc Picayune Intelligencer.
* At the end of the movie Egbert Sousé is whistling “Listen to the Mockingbird” just as Joe the Bartender comes onto the screen. Joe is played by Shemp Howard of Three Stooges fame and “Listen to the Mockingbird” was the Three Stooges Theme music.
* Universal’s censors initially objected to W.C. Fields’ script and demanded many changes. Director ‘Eddie Cline’ suggested that Fields should go ahead and film it their way, and that the front office wouldn’t notice the difference. They didn’t.
* Premiere voted this movie as one of “The 50 Greatest Comedies Of All Time” in 2006.