Turner Classic Movies celebrates the first and still greatest of all Hollywood curmudgeons this month with a 24-film tribute to W.C. Fields.
Born William Claude Dukenfeld on Jan. 29, 1880 in Philadelphia (contrary to popular legend, his tombstone does not read "I'd rather be here than in Philadelphia"), Fields was already a success in vaudeville and on Broadway by the time sound films came along. He proved a natural for the medium. His exaggerated drawl, bulbous features (largely the result of a long-standing infatuation with the bottle) and wisecracking persona made him particularly suited for the sound era.
Audiences never exactly embraced Fields, but that was the point. If his contemporary, Will Rogers, could brag that he never met a man he didn't like, Fields was just the opposite: he rarely met the man whose presence he could endure. And that was doubly true of children and dogs, the banes of his cinematic existence ("No man who hates dogs and children can be all bad," went one famous aphorism.)
Life itself was Fields' enemy; he was the perennial hen-pecked husband, the ceaseless drunk, the golfer whose clubs bent in half with each swing, the haughty philosopher whose every step outdoors was met with a snowball in the face. The world itself reveled in slapping W.C. Fields around. The same, of course, could be said about many of his comic contemporaries, including Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy.
But unlike them, Fields slapped back. He never was one to suffer silently.
TCM's monthlong tribute begins at 8 p.m. Monday with the 1932 film "If I Had a Million," in which Fields plays one of several people unexpectedly left money by a dying millionaire. The evening's offerings also include 1933's "International House," co-starring George Burns and Gracie Allen, at 10 p.m.; 1915's "The Pool Sharks," his first film, at 9:45 p.m.; and 1930's "The Golf Specialist," possibly Fields' funniest short film, at 2:15 a.m.
Other highlights among the month's 24 films are 1934's "It's a Gift" (June 11, 9:45 p.m.); 1932's short "The Dentist" (June 11, 9:15 p.m.); 1935's "David Copperfield," with Fields as Micawber (June 19, 12:45 a.m.); 1940's "The Bank Dick" (June 25, 8 p.m.); and 1941's "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break" (June 25, 9:45 p.m.).
'Ivan' at the Charles
As a warm-up for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's performance of Sergei Prokofiev's score for Sergei Eisenstein's "Ivan the Terrible, Parts I and II," those two landmark 1945 films will be screened at the Charles next week.
"Part I" is set for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, "Part II" for the same time Wednesday. The two films will be screened together at 1 p.m. Saturday. Sun music critic Tim Smith and I will introduce the films.
Admission is $10 for one film, $15 for both. Student and senior-citizen admission is $8.
The BSO's performance of Prokofiev's score is slated for June 14, 15 and 16.
Cinema Sundays 'Party'
"The Anniversary Party," an ensemble film written and directed by Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh, is this weekend's Cinema Sundays feature at the Charles. In the film, a group of friends interact at a party thrown in one couple's honor. The cast includes Cumming, Leigh, Kevin Kline, Phoebe Cates, Parker Posey, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Beals and John C. Reilly.
Showtime is 10:30 a.m., with doors opening at 9:45 a.m. Tickets cost $15.