It's a Gift
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In a departure from his usual misanthropic characters, W. C. Fields plays a mild-mannered, small town shopkeeper who is constantly hounded by his family, customers, and assorted strangers in It's a Gift (1934). The result is one of his funniest films and allows him to portray Harold Bissonette as the classic underdog, one whose calm perseverance under duress is finally rewarded at the end: Harold's dream of owning an orange ranch becomes a reality.
It's a Gift is basically a reprise of Fields' greatest hits from his vaudeville days reworked into a narrative with the hapless Bissonette at the center. Several skits came directly from Fields' revue, The Comic Supplement, including 'The Drug Store', "The Picnic Sketch,' and "The Back Porch' (This is the famous skit where Bissonette is harassed by an obnoxious salesman and others while trying to get some sleep on his back porch). The bedroom sketch (also known as 'The Nagger') was originally presented in Follies of 1925 and the shared bathroom sequence, where Bissonette almost cuts his own throat shaving due to his daughter's hyperactive hair brushing, was included in the silent film, The Potters. There are also many plot similarities to It's the Old Army Game (1926), an earlier Fields' silent film, but the recycling of the material works beautifully in It's a Gift, preserving the comedian's most hilarious routines on film forever.
The working title for It's a Gift was originally Back Porch and the script was full of Fields' fondness for odd sounding words and names such as Jasper Fitchmueller, the customer who comes into Bissonette's store and demands "kumquats." Fields was equally fond of using pseudonyms for his screenplays and submitted It's a Gift to the studio under the name of Charles Bogle. As expected, the Breen Office studied the screenplay closely and came up with a long list of objections, such as "Mr. Field's routine gag about being wet by a spray and turning around and kicking the dog should not be used' or "The daughter's line: 'Father, please stop at the first clean gas station should be deleted." Some concessions were made but It's a Gift remains remarkably true to Fields' original conception.
The classic porch sequence was shot at Lasky Ranch and is practically biographical due to the fact that Fields was a well-known insomniac in real life. The last sequence in the film was actually photographed at Fields' newly purchased seven acre estate in Encino, California, and provides a fitting close to the film which mirrors the real Fields: Bissonette is glimpsed sitting on his porch while his family drives away in a limousine for a social outing. As he waves goodbye to them, he pours himself a generous helping of gin and adds a few squeezes of juice from a recently plucked orange.
Producer: William LeBaron
Director: Norman Z. McLeod
Screenplay: Jack Cunningham, W.C. Fields (as Charles Bogle) (play The Comic Supplement), J.P. McEvoy
Cinematography: Henry Sharp
Original Music: Lew Brown (I) (uncredited), Buddy G. DeSylva (uncredited), Ray Henderson (uncredited)
Principal Cast: W.C. Fields (Harold Bissonette), Kathleen Howard (Mrs. Amelia Bissonette), Jean Rouverol (Mildred Bissonette), Julian Madison (John Durston, Mildred's fiance), Tommy Bupp (Norman Bissonette), Baby LeRoy (Baby Dunk).
By Jeff Stafford