Although he usually gets high marks for being funny, W.C. Fields seldom gets credit for versatility. Even people familiar with his work tend to define his screen persona narrowly as a cantankerous, lecherous old blow-hard who hates kids and dogs, and is usually drunk. This image was firmly ingrained in the public imagination during the late 1930's and '40s through his radio work and most of his later movie appearances, but a look back at the films he made in the early to mid-'30s reveals distinct variations in his roles. He was capable of a surprising range of nuance, and was not at all a Johnny One Note who could only play "W.C. Fields" over and over.
As evidence of this, consider the four short films Fields made for producer Mack Sennett during the 1932-33 season. Three of the four bear certain similarities, each presenting our hero in the role of middle-class professional man: dentist, pharmacist, and barber. Each character lives over his place of business, and each has difficulties with his family and his customers, but beyond the superficial similarities there are decided shades of difference in Fields's portrayals. In The Dentist he is ornery, mean to his daughter, and openly contemptuous towards his patients. In The Pharmacist he's once more a petty tyrant when dealing with his family, but on the job he's ridiculously agreeable and positively masochistic in his desire to please his customers. In The Barber Shop, his last Sennett comedy, Fields is downright mellow, and the atmosphere is more laid-back and whimsical than in the other films.
Fields plays Cornelius O'Hare, barber of Felton City. ("Felton" was the maiden name of Fields' mother, and it's said that his mumbling delivery of wisecracks, as demonstrated in the opening scene, owed a lot to his mother's personal style.) O'Hare likes to hang out in front of his shop and shoot the breeze. His business is struggling and his wife is a nag, but his life has its compensations: he has a friendly relationship with his son, who likes to tell riddles, and gets to flirt with an attractive young manicurist named Hortense who works in his shop and seems to like him. During the course of the film we follow O'Hare through his dealings with difficult customers and various passersby. We learn that O'Hare is not a very good barber -- to put it politely -- but he seems to be a decent enough guy. And when his day ends in a humiliating encounter with a bank robber, we feel a little sorry for him.
The Barber Shop may not be the funniest short Fields ever made, but there are laughs throughout, and you'll seldom find him as sympathetic as he is here. I especially enjoy the surreal touches, such as the steam room that reduces an obese man to a skinny one in a matter of minutes, and the climactic gag involving O'Hare's bass fiddle. These wacky gags, in combination with Fields' more benign persona, make this one of The Great Man's most pleasant comedies, one that might win over non-fans who are put off by his nastier characterizations in other movies.
Released during the Depression summer of 1933, The Barber Shop holds a melancholy place in Hollywood history: according to Simon Louvish's biography of Mack Sennett, this was the last film put out by Sennett's studio before it went into bankruptcy and was forcibly closed. Sennett had been in business as a producer since he founded Keystone in 1912, and although he managed to limp along with minor projects for another year or two this pretty much marked the end of the line for him. Sad, but at least Mack was able to finish his career on a high note, thanks to Mr. Fields.
The Barber Shop
The Barber Shop
Barber O'Hair has a vegetarian wife at home a pretty manicurist at work. A dog sits in the barbershop which O'Hair explains: "One day I was shaving a man and cut his ear off. And the dog got it. Been back here ever since." Oh, and he captures a bank robber.
Uploaded By: FREEMAN
June 14, 2020 at 09:56 AM