This is a now out-of-print DVD from Criterion's early days, back when they enjoyed the privilege of being able to license Hollywood hits with mainstream commercial potential. Sometime within the past few years, Criterion lost the rights to distribute this film when Universal Pictures realized the lucrative potential of the property. Now if you want to watch it, you'll have to rent or invest in a larger box set of full-length W.C. Fields features. There's certainly nothing wrong with taking a longer, more complete look at Field's comedies, but I enjoy having access to one simple straightforwardly-packaged film with succinct liner notes and a clear expression of appreciation for this particular production, routinely heralded as an exemplary slice of Fields in his prime - probably the least compromised and most consistently satisfying of his full-length films.
In-depth analysis and reflective commentary on the sociological significance of this film feels a bit misplaced here, but I'd like to risk it just a bit if you don't mind. It would be easy enough for me to sum it all up by saying something like "Hilarious flick! See it for yourself and enjoy the old-fashioned craziness that Fields scripted and captured on film." That simple one-liner does offer an adequate Twitter-sized summary of the movie, but there's more to specifically point out for deeper appreciation.
Let's start with this clip, from early in the movie. It sets up the meager stick-figure of a plot put forward in the film and also presents an adequate sample of the plot. If the antics contained herein fail to amuse you, then I think it's safe to say that the rest of the movie won't do much to reverse opinion:
However, if that sequence triggered a laugh or two from you, then let me encourage you by all means to dig deeper and experience the full feast of amusement that The Bank Dick has to offer.
Fields fruitfully worked a few rich veins throughout his career and the most famous of them pop up here: annoying kids, scolding relatives, prudish small-town meddlers, irascible drunkenness and a penchant for self-serving hype and exaggeration.
Fields plays Egbert Souse (pronounced Soo-say), a lovable lush type, constantly harangued by his family, as you saw above, who inadvertently stumbles his way into the perception of heroics and, as a result, a cushy job as a bank security guard.
His role there leads to some mild shenanigans involving a risky financial transaction and the subsequent effort to distract the tenacious auditor J. Pinkerton Snoopington.
Once that bullet is dodged, bank robbers strike at an opportune moment, intiating one of the most spontaneously funny car chase scenes that I've ever seen. Seriously, I've seen it a few times now and I think I laugh harder at the sequence, and the film in general, every time I roll it out on my screen!
A few classic things to like that stand out to me here: the presence of "replacement Stooge" Shemp Howard as the bartender of the Black Pussy Cat saloon is a highlight. Shemp, of course, was one of the Howard brothers who replaced Curly in the Three Stooges after Curly's career was interrupted by a stroke in 1946. The Bank Dick dates from 1940, when Shemp was still in the midst of a successful solo career (though his memory mostly lives on now as a result of his work with his older brother Moe and associate Larry Fine.) It's fun to see him in action even though his scenes are relatively brief.
And I can hardly find words to express how much I enjoyed the dialog in the film. I could go ahead and do a new version of what I did with my "review" of The Fatal Glass of Beer, but I don't want to pull the same trick twice. However, here's a link to the imdb.com quotes page which provides a limited sample of some of The Bank Dick's best lines... "and then disappears, through the waving fields of alfalfa!" LOL!!!
The upshot of this film is that Fields produced his last masterpiece and in the process left us a sharp and timeless satirical jab that in my opinion stands quite strong through the test of time. He effortlessly punctures American culture's smug sense of self-satisfaction and pious pomposity, stringing together one classically nutty scene after another. It packs a lot of laughs into 72 swift minutes - a therapeutic dosage virtually guaranteed to relieve stress and postmodern anxiety that doesn't require a prescription, though you may have to make an underground connection to get your fix.
Next: The Thief of Bagdad