Old Fashioned Way, The (1934)

“He ain’t gonna let you set foot on that stage — all he wants is your money, Mrs. Pepperday!”

Synopsis:
The fugitive manager (W.C. Fields) of a struggling theatre troupe deceives a wealthy aspiring singer (Jan Duggan) into believing he will give her a part in his play.

Genres:

Review:
This little-seen W.C. Fields classic is dearly beloved by Fields’ fans, primarily because it’s the only movie to showcase the comedian’s origins as a traveling performer and juggler. While it contains several moments of genuine humor, however, I found the film disappointing as a whole; it’s not nearly as consistently amusing as his better-known titles. Only recommended for hardcore W.C. Fields fans.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An affectionate tribute to turn-of-the-century melodramas
    Melodrama
  • Fields doing his famous cigar-box balancing act
    Juggling
  • Cleopatra Pepperday (Duggan) singing the interminable “seashell song”

Must See?
No. Though Peary lists this as both a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation (and quite a few contributors on IMDb seem to concur), I think it’s only must-see viewing for true W.C. Fields fans. Peary — who clearly IS a diehard Fields fan — nominates his performance here for an Alternate Oscar.

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One Response to “Old Fashioned Way, The (1934)”

  1. Oddly enough, this seems a must to me – even if mostly for its place in cinema history.

    Naturally, I recognize the importance of W.C. Fields’ presence in film and what he added to it. FFs do need to be familiar with some of his work, at least. It’s just not easy (for me, anyway) to immediately call Fields’ best work to mind without (esp. now) going back film by film. In doing so – maybe because I’m not a huge fan – I can appreciate him in some films more than others, and just try to zero in on when I feel he’s at his best (esp. in terms of what works overall in the films themselves).

    That’s mainly why I’d take this film, for example, over ‘Man on the Flying Trapeze’ any day. ‘Man…’ comes off rather forced to me, with much in it that’s repetitive. As a result, the strain of it appears. But that quality doesn’t seem evident in ‘TOFW’ – it’s a series of vignettes that ring true as they relate to what it was like years ago to be part of a traveling theater troupe led by a fast-thinking manager (and fellow performer).

    Though, as an actor, Fields does nice work here, he has considerable ‘competition’ in Jan Duggan as Cleopatra Pepperday (great character name!). (Duggan doesn’t seem to have done all that much in film; there is just about no info about her at IMDb.) As Cleopatra, Duggan puts one in mind of Margaret Dumont opposite Groucho Marx – except that, here, Duggan has the upper hand. Her “seashell song”, is, indeed, delivered hilariously but she’s actually worth watching throughout.

    Personally, I admire the autobiographical aspect of this film and, for me, it puts Fields in a light I’ve not seen him in before. I also find the ending touching (if ultimately bittersweet).

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