The thing is, I really don't have much to say about these films other than that they are very funny and I imagine I will be popping them in quite a few times in the years ahead since I really enjoy the quirky glimpse that W.C. provides into the smalltown life of his era. He's such a hard-pressed character in just about every film he's in - a washed up heel who's painfully aware of just how stuck and miserable his plight really is, even though he's deeply enmeshed in all the trappings of propriety and modest success. In The Pharmacist, he plays a shopkeeper who must quietly suffer the mild indignities of cheapskate customers, frivolous daughters and a too-easily indignant wife. And what do you know, his plight is not all that different in The Barber Shop either. In fact, the same woman plays his wife in both short subjects (Elise Cavanna, the actress who engaged in that memorable grapple in The Dentist.) Various absurdities take place just for the sake of random, nonsensical, slapstick amusement - a girl eats a canary bird, two old codgers fritter the day away over a meaningless game of checkers, only to have Fields disrupt the exquisite tension they'd developed through maliciously bad advice to one of the players.
Oddball customers wander in off the street,
heap on the aggravation with their pointlessly petty requests, then leave the quietly seething propietor to mutter his insults askance. Both films end up with criminal intrusions that inject a note of action and suspense into the proceedings before ending up in shamelessly blatant deus ex machina resolutions that provide a convenient excuse for fade to black. We aren't left with any kind of underlying message or redemptive point at all. These short films, each running around 20 minutes or so, offer a brief foray into a world at once fading into the distance but still familiar in its basic roles and functions, surprisingly bitter and brutal while remaining quite capable for stirring the embers of nostalgia for a version of Americana that is thankfully receding into the past.
Next: The Emperor Jones