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Mack Sennett - TCM Spotlight
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The Dentist

In 1932 a highly anticipated alliance between one of the greatest early filmmakers and a comic legend finally came to fruition. Although talks had been in place for nine years, it took a film called The Dentist to bring together Mack Sennett and W.C. Fields. This first of four film collaborations, The Dentist was based on a 1928 sketch from the stage show Vanities entitled An Episode at The Dentist. In typical Fieldsian fashion, a dentist tries to catch a quick round of golf before the day's work, resulting in stray balls, unconscious players, an exasperating caddy, and rampant cheating by Fields. Back at the office, a progressive series of screwball patients pass through, and a shotgun literally brings the house down.

The Dentist was filmed in the Mack Sennett Studios in Hollywood, and on location at the Lakeside Country Club in Toluca Lake, California - a favorite course of Fields. The familiarity extended to his cast; Elise Cavanna, an actress often featured in Fields' stage productions, played one of his patients. She would also appear in other Fields' films, most notably It's the Old Army Game(1926). One of Fields' closest friends, Leon Errol, would star with another patient from The Dentist - Dorothy Granger - in a RKO series spanning eighteen years.

Fields was paid $5000 a week for his work on the four films, an astronomical sum for actors at the time. Sennett, however, knew how to get the most bang for his buck: the publicity stunt. Claiming the American Dental Association was greatly offended by the depiction of their profession, Sennett managed to heighten the Hollywood buzz even more by announcing the outrage was delaying the film's release. The stage version of the sketch had its own PR event four years earlier when two Humane Society agents arrested Fields mid-show. The charge was cruelty to animals; a canary used during the performance died after flying into the backdrop. Fields pled his innocence to the court, an autopsy was performed, and the case dismissed. Whether the entire affair was an engineered stunt was suspected but never confirmed, but it didn't hurt ticket sales.

When the film was prepared for television release in the sixties, however, there was nothing contrived about a run-in with the censors. The scenes with Elise Cavanna were considered too explicit because the snaps to her garter belt were revealed. Ultimately the offending shots were edited out before airing, a decision at which Fields would have undoubtedly sneered his gin-blossomed nose.

Although it was a popular film, The Dentist is one of the few examples of a rather unlikable Fields character, appearing callous and lacking the levity of other leads. As a result, Fields resolved to make the remaining three Sennett films a little less rude. Hey, for $5000 a week you'd be nicer too.

Producer: Mack Sennett
Director: Leslie Pearce
Screenplay: W.C. Fields
Cast: Dorothy Granger (Patient (Miss Peppitone), W.C. Fields (Dentist), Zedna Farley (Dental Assistant), Babe Kane (Daughter), Arnold Gray (Arthur the iceman).
BW-22m.

by Eleanor Quin
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