Poppy (1936)

“If we should ever separate, my little plum, I want to give you just one bit of fatherly advice: never give a sucker an even break!”

Synopsis:
A con-artist (W.C. Fields) traveling through a small town attempts to pass off his grown daughter, Poppy (Rochelle Hudson), as the long-lost heiress to a local fortune; meanwhile, Poppy falls in love with the mayor’s son (Richard Cromwell), causing scandal in the town.

Genres:

Review:
Based on a 1923 musical comedy, and turned into the silent film Sally of the Sawdust by D.W. Griffith in 1925, this W.C. Fields vehicle features the iconoclastic comedian in one of his signature roles, that of Professor Eustace McGargle. Despite being in enormous physical pain during the film’s production (read here for more details), Fields acquits himself admirably throughout, and it’s fun to see him slickly conning his way through several humorous situations: passing off a “talking” dog to a gullible barman; ordering lavishly garnished hotdogs he has no intention of paying for. Meanwhile, Hudson does a fine job retaining our sympathy in a tricky role which requires her to exhibit both charming innocence and unconditional love towards a father she knows to be a shyster. Unfortunately, the entire narrative upon which the film is based — particularly Hudson’s “scandalizing” cross-class romance with Cromwell — is both weak and stale; there’s really nothing new under the sun here. This one is primarily worth a look simply to see a few instances of Fields doing what he does best: conning the world, one scam at a time.

Note: I really do believe Fields was at his best in con-man roles, rather than the other archetype he often inhabited: that of a henpecked martyr.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • W.C. Fields as Professor McGargle
  • Rochelle Hudson as Poppy

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look simply for a few amusing sequences. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Poppy (1936)”

  1. A must for its place in cinema history. This is one of the better Fields pics.

    Co-written by Virginia Van Upp (who later, as Exec-Producer at Columbia, would produce ‘Gilda’) from the Dorothy Donnelly play, this film largely benefits from a feminine sensibility. In fact, when that element is noticeably missing, the film suffers (some of the routines over-stay their welcome). However, enough surprises keep the film generally afloat.

    I personally love the bit with the ‘talking’ dog. The lines are pretty snappy – oh, if only that idea could somehow have been a running gag. 😉 But, speaking of running gags, the ‘five dollars’ routine is priceless (as it were).

    Hudson does do a fine job – although giving her that ‘rendezvous’ song a second time is a bit much – and she’s especially triumphant when she ‘has her say’ to those who try to cause her downfall.

    The ending is superb.

    And, yes, Fields is more effective when much less henpecked.

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