Why this film and why W.C. Fields?
Is it reflexive? Am I just running down a checklist of comedy icons and now it's his turn?
No. I'm not particularly brand-loyal it comes to the early days of comedy, with the possible exception of Buster Keaton. Him, I endorse across the board. Everyone else, I've got my likes and my dislikes. And in the case of W.C. Fields, I think it all came together in his Depression-era comedy version of The Book Of Job, and any discussion of great movies should include this dark-hearted misanthropy.
Part of that is because of Norman McLeod. This is a guy who worked with the comedy legends of his day, and helped shape who they were on film. He directed the Marx Brothers in "Monkey Business" and "Horse Feathers." He directed Cary Grant and Constance Bennett in "Topper." He directed Danny Kaye repeatedly. He directed Bob Hope and Bing Crosby repeatedly. And, yes, in 1934, he directed the great W.C. Fields in the film that I think best showcases the particular comic sensibilities that made Fields such an icon in his time. Not only did he know funny innately, he helped define the vocabulary of how it's still being shot today. He understood that it's not just funny people doing funny things, but also how you shoot and cut it. He really understood where to put his camera to sell every single punchline. He made great use of all of his actors and not only his stars.
[more after the jump]