Thursday, January 25, 2018

It's a Gift

It's a Gift; comedy, USA, 1934; D: Norman Z. McLeod, S: W. C. Fields, Jean Rouverol, Kathleen Howard

Harold is annoyed by his life: he is an owner of a shabby store, plagued by a blind customer who wrecks everything with his cane as well as an incompetent assistant; back at home, things are even worse thanks to his irritating wife who constantly scolds him for trivial omissions, while they have to kids, Mildred and Norman. When his uncle dies, Harold inherits some money which he uses to buy himself an orange farm in California, and thus takes a long trip in a car with his family to move there. In California, Harold discovers the farm is a desert, but an important race track needs to be built on the property, so he sells it for an astronomical fee and gets his orange farm in the end.

Even though it is considered a comedy classic in some critics' circles, "It's a Gift" is a 'hit-and-miss' affair, an uneven film assembled out of various episodes: some sketches work, others do not. It achieves the most out of comedian W.C. Fields, who manages to traverse the entire film with even energy from start to finish, and some of his cynical moments are highlights: two of the best jokes are the one with his introduction (he is shaving in the bathroom, but his daughter enters and opens the door with the mirror on it to get some make-up, so he has to constantly change places to see himself in the reflection, until he gives up and decides to shave until the end on the reflection of a can) and the picnic sequence (the wife tells him to give half of his sandwich to their kid, so Harold opens the two loafs of breads, folds the ham on his side - and then gives the empty half of the sandwich to the kid). Another good moment if when Harold and his family are about to drive to California, all the people around them wave goodbye, but the car starts - and then stops after it moved for only one yard. Unfortunately, not all of the gags are on the same level as these ones, and thus several lesser moments feel contrived, forced or just plain too long (the grocery sequence, for instance, is more irritating than it is funny) whereas the chaotic meandering of the story seems arbitrary, especially since some of the subplots, such as the one involving Mildred's boyfriend, are forgotten and unresolved in the end.


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