Bank Dick, The (1940)

“You’d like to have a nose like that full of nickels, wouldn’t you?”

Bank Dick Poster

Synopsis:
When henpecked Egbert Souse (W.C. Fields) inadvertently captures a bank robber, he’s offered a job as a “bank dick” by the bank’s grateful president (Pierre Watkin). Meanwhile, he naively convinces his future son-in-law (Grady Sutton) to borrow money from the bank in order to buy phony mining stock from a con-artist (Russell Hicks). When bank examiner J. Pinkerton Snoopington (Franklin Pangborn) arrives in town, Souse must do what he can to postpone the audit.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Often cited as W.C. Field’s finest film, The Bank Dick offers a heady distillation of the comedian at his iconic best. He waltzes through his own meandering script (credited to “Mahatma Kane Jeeves”) with an eye constantly turned towards the local drinking hole, the Black Pussy Cafe (!) — and, though he wants nothing more than to escape from his obnoxious family of henpecking females (wife, mother-in-law, and daughters all despise him), he nonetheless finds himself haplessly caught up in one adventure after the other.

Unfortunately, though Fields is as enjoyable as ever, much of the humor in The Bank Dick is either dated (there’s far too much physical slapstick), blatantly offensive (note the awful scene with the wild-eyed African-American customer at the bank), or simply a retread of themes from his earlier films. With that said, The Bank Dick possesses wonderful performances by its cast of supporting actors (particularly Franklin Pangborn and Grady Sutton), and remains essential viewing for all serious film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • W.C. Fields in yet another iconic role; Peary (an inveterate Fields fan) nominates him for an Alternate Oscar as best actor of the year
  • Franklin Pangborn as bank examiner Snoopington
  • Grady Sutton as Souse’s would-be son-in-law
  • Mr. Skinner giving Souse a “hearty handclasp” (this shot gets me every time!)

Must See?
Yes. Though it’s not my favorite W.C. Fields film, it’s widely regarded as among his best, and should be seen by all film fanatics.

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(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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One Response to “Bank Dick, The (1940)”

  1. Agreed; a must – mostly for historical reasons, not because I’m a particular fan of any of Fields’ starring vehicles. (I’ve thought it might have been interesting to see him do more real character work – i.e., his role in ‘David Copperfield’.)

    Oddly, though Fields is mildly amusing here and exhibits some refreshing timing, the supporting cast threatens to upstage him at every turn – and their performances (as noted) have held up better. They also have some of the better lines: the mother-in-law answering the crossword question that “a six-letter word for embezzlement” is “prison”; the doctor stating “the first thing you’ve got to do is cut out all health foods for a while.”, etc. One of the sweetest moments comes silently when daughter Merkel (who doesn’t seem to me to despise Fields) sits on Sutton’s lap and he responds boyishly to her kiss.

    The script drips with disdain for comic effect, and seems to only have respect for bartenders. As well, Fields appears to be playfully trying to get as much vulgarity as he can past the censors (putting ‘dick’ in the title, ‘pussy’ in the cafe name, referring to someone whose last name begins with ‘Effing~’, etc.).

    The one big laugh (aside from the noted, hilarious “hearty handclasp”) comes when the con-man is undone; the finale is lively (with Fields stepping on the gas not only with a car but with the script in general), and it’s fun learning Fields’ ultimate fate.

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