(director: Edward F. Cline; screenwriter: W.C. Fields (Mahatma Kane Jeeves); cinematographer: Milton Krasner; editor: Arthur D. Hilton; music: Charles Previn; cast: W.C. Fields (Egbert Sousé), Cora Witherspoon (Agatha Sousé), Una Merkel (Myrtle Sousé), Evelyn del Rio (Elsie Mae Adele Brunch Sousé), Jessie Ralph (Mrs. Hermisillo Brunch), Franklin Pangborn (J. Pinkerton Snoopington), Grady Sutton (Og Oggilby), Shemp Howard (Joe Guelpe), Russell Hicks (J. Frothingham Waterbury), George Moran (Loudmouth McNasty), Al Hill (Repulsive Rogan), Harlan Briggs (Dr. Stall), Bill Alston (Mr. Cheek), Dick Purcell (Mackley Q. Greene), Jack Norton (A. Pismo Clam), Pierre Watkin (Mr. Skinner); Runtime: 73; MPAA Rating: NR; Criteron/Home Vision; 1940)

“Like money in the bank.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A sputtering comedy that comes with a makeshift story that seems developed on the run and makes little sense, but an uninhibited W.C. Fields does his crazy thing and provides for a healthy mix of low-brow physical comedy with some witty one-liners. Fields’s writing nom-de-plume, Mahatma Kane Jeeves, was lifted from noble characters in those old English drawing-room comedy plays where they said things such as: ‘M’hat, m’cane, Jeeves.’ This is one of Fields’s better comedies, if not his best, though sometimes the many odd character names are funnier than the not fully realized comic situations. Fields plays his usual screen role of child hater and a drunken misanthrope who lies, cheats and steals. For exercising such worthless virtues he is eventually rewarded with hero status, wealth, celebrity and a lucrative movie contract.

W.C. Fields is Egbert Sousé (pronounced “Sou-zay”, accent grave over the ‘e’), an idler henpecked by three generations of women (Elsie Mae Adele Brunch Souse is his antagonistic youngest daughter, Agatha is his sneering wife and Mrs. Hermisillo Brunch his contemptuous mother-in-law). The ne’er-do-well resides in Lompoc, California, where the unemployed drunk attempts to support his belligerent family by gambling and entering radio contests. His favorite hangout is at the Black Pussy Cat Cafe (with the bartender none other than one of the characters in The Three Stooges-Shemp Howard). One day frustrated movie producer Mackley Q. Greene comes in to get drunk and is persuaded by a boastful Sousé–mentioning in an off-handed manner that in the days of silent films he directed Fatty Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton–to let him take over directing the film for the incapacitated drunk director A. Pismo Clam. The irresponsible Sousé abruptly leaves the set after reworking the entire film from an English drawing-room drama to a circus film about a football player running a scrimmage. Sousé then parks himself on a Lompoc Municipal Bus Line bench to read his newspaper and doesn’t realize a fleeing duo of bank robbers, Loudmouth McNasty and Repulsive Rogan, are nearby and one of them threw away his gun and the other knocked himself out upon tripping over the bench. When the pursuing police arrive on the scene, Sousé is called a hero for recovering the cash and the capture of one of the bandits. So Mr. Skinner, the bank president and holder of the defaulted mortgage on his house, rewards Sousé’s heroism with a job as a bank guard (“dick”) and offers him another chance to pay back the loan. Sousé soon has an encounter with con man J. Frothingham Waterbury, who offers him stock shares in the flimsy Beefsteak Mines. Sousé then convinces bank clerk Og Oggilby, the dim-witted fiance of his daughter Myrtle, to “borrow” $500 from the bank (which is really embezzling, though Sousé tells him if you pay back the money with your expected bank bonus it’s just like borrowing). Unfortunately, bank examiner J. Pinkerton Snoopington comes to the bank to examine the books, leaving Sousé four days to prevent him from discovering the crime. He does it by slipping the examiner a Mickey Finn. It ends with one of those famous Keystone Kop chase scenes from the silent days, offering a more modern version of an animated Mack Sennett car chase.

Fields’s comedy seems to be timeless, there’s always an audience for such broad humor who readily take to the dark antics of such an anti-establishment hero who mocks what a real Hollywood hero is supposed to be like. The Bank Dick is like money in the bank, as Fields’s comedy never goes so much out of favor that it can’t be enjoyed by a new generation who might be stumbling over this old-time bad boy of the cinema for the first time and rekindle more enjoyment for the already converted who can’t get enough of their bibulous Man.

W.C. Fields, Kay Sutton, and Heather Wilde in The Bank Dick (1940)