The year 1934 was a particularly good one for W.C. Fields in terms of movies. Overlooking his largely negligible presence in the rarely revived Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch and his ensemble participation as one of the titular Six of a Kind, 1934 saw Fields in three of his best vehicles: It’s a Gift, You’re Telling Me! and The Old-Fashioned Way. It’s a Gift is often considered his masterpiece, with the long unavailable You’re Telling Me not too far behind, leaving the very worthy The Old Fashioned Way just a little lost in the shuffle. That’s a shame, because the film gives Fields a prime showcase as The Great McGonigle, the head of a tacky touring company of players from sometime around the turn of the century. There’s very little plot, but plot always was a minor concern with Fields. It’s enough to know that the McGonigle Repertory Company is in its usual position of being one jump ahead of the sheriff and performing in a town with a rather grotesque and wealthy widow (“She’s all dressed up like a well-kept grave”) who has a yen for the theater. What matters is that Fields is given a free hand to fleece the widow, dodge the bill collectors, do battle with 2-year-old Baby LeRoy, play the villain in an old melodrama and record his old juggling act on film for the first and only time. If you like Fields, it doesn’t get a lot better than this. If you don’t, you’ll still like it.
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