Though the great comedian would have hated this film, this movie biography of W.C. Fields has a certain appeal thanks to Steiger's handling of the lead role. The story opens in 1924. Steiger is appearing in the Ziegfeld Follies, but Stewart (as Flo Ziegfeld) grows angry with the comedian's
ribald humor. Steiger is hit with a double blow when his mistress, Peters, runs off with another man and his broker ends up losing Steiger's life savings. With nothing to keep him in New York, Steiger talks his diminutive friend Barty into financing a trip for the two to California. After
operating a wax museum in Santa Monica, Steiger is given a chance to appear in the movies. Soon he is a star comedian and one of the film community's most notorious drinkers. At a party with friends John Barrymore (Cassidy), Gene Fowler (Zorich), Dave Chasen (Kamen), and an agent (Elcar), Steiger
meets Perrine, a struggling actress. The inebriated group plays a joke on her, telling the eager Perrine that she is invited to Steiger's home to discuss a possible film role. Though Perrine knows this is a hoax, she goes to the comedian's home the next day. Steiger offers her a position as
live-in secretary, which she accepts. She quickly becomes his confidant and sympathetic ear, but refuses to give up her dream of becoming an actress. Steiger arranges a screen test, a set-up wherein Perrine will be told she is terrible. When producer Marley actually thinks she shows some talent,
Steiger threatens to quit Paramount studios if Perrine is encouraged. After returning from an alcoholic binge in Mexico Steiger has a fight with Marley, and Perrine learns the truth. She angrily goes to New York, but returns to comfort Steiger when Cassidy suddenly passes away. Perrine pushes
Steiger for marriage, but on the set of MY LITTLE CHICKADEE she learns the reason why he so stubbornly refuses. Visiting the set is Steiger's son, Parks, who tells the surprised Perrine about Steiger's past marriage, which has never been legally dissolved. Though hurt, Perrine continues to stay
with this exasperating personality as his heavy drinking continues to destroy his health. Steiger enters a hospital, and Perrine takes a room as well to be near him. Finally, after much physical pain, Steiger passes away on Christmas Day (ironically, a day Fields hated with a passion), 1946.
Though Fields purists undoubtedly will be outraged with the many inaccuracies in the film, Steiger gives an intelligent performance as the bulbous-proboscised comedian. The makeup job certainly helps him look the part, but the key to Steiger's portrait is avoiding any imitation of Fields. Fields'
voice arguably is one of the world's most often imitated, but Steiger doesn't just mimic the comedian's vocal tones and inflections. Rather than ape Fields, Steiger creates his own interpretation of the man, capturing subtle nuances that create a better-rounded character. Carlotta Monti, whose
self-serving, ghost-written autobiography served as the film's basis, was given credit as technical consultant and makes a cameo appearance as well, sitting near Cassidy when Perrine is first introduced. Fields' talent, his art, was comedy, an element conspicuously absent in the picture. Two of
the crony-characterization actors died shortly after the film's release: Milt Kamen from a heart attack, and Jack Cassidy (husband of actress Shirley Jones, father of actor-singer David Cassidy) in a fire in his home.
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- Released: 1976
- Rating: PG
- Review: Though the great comedian would have hated this film, this movie biography of W.C. Fields has a certain appeal thanks to Steiger's handling of the lead role. The story opens in 1924. Steiger is appearing in the Ziegfeld Follies, but Stewart (as Flo Ziegfel… (more)