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The Fatal Glass of Beer
Remind Me

The Fatal Glass of Beer

The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933), W.C. Fields' gleefully eccentric 20-minute masterpiece, is the second - and generally considered the best - of four "two-reeler" shorts produced by Mack Sennett (the others being The Dentist (1932), The Pharmacist (1933) and The Barber Shop, 1933). The plot is little more than a simple framework for our cantankerous star: Mr. Snavely (Fields), a Yukon prospector, lost his only son years ago to the temptations of the big city (the title of the short comes from a wacky song Fields sings about his son in the first sequence); now the prodigal son Chester (George Chandler) has returned home after a stint in prison.

If the story sounds mundane, the treatment is anything but. It's jam-packed with absurdist humor, sight gags, word play, inside jokes, vaudeville slapstick, and cheesy sets. Fields' approach to the film is refreshingly cynical. This attitude, along with the film's freewheeling style, gives it an almost contemporary feel that has preserved the humor after 60 years.

The film opened in March 1933 to very poor reviews. But the comedy is very low-key; its subtle satire of the Yukon dramas that were popular at the time as well as the temperance lectures that were so predominate during the era of prohibition probably went over the heads of most critics. In addition, the film's staginess - another reason for its poor box office performance - exudes a joyful disdain for film cliches. Not only are the Yukon dramas being spoofed, but also the techniques of how they're made. At one point Fields spits out some snow from his mouth and says, "It tastes just like corn flakes," revealing a then studio secret: film snow was cornflakes dipped in white paint. Elsewhere, atrocious singing, a hoary honky-tonk piano soundtrack, Native American characters that appear for no purpose, and hilariously bad rear-screen projection make for a mighty strange stew that will please any fan of Fields.

Producer: Mack Sennett
Director: Clyde Bruckman
Screenplay: W.C. Fields
Cast: W.C. Fields (Mr. Snavely), Rosemary Theby (Mrs. Snavely), George Chandler (Chester the wastrel son), Richard Cramer (Officer Posthlewhistle).

by Michael T. Toole