(director: Leslie Pearce; screenwriter: W.C. Fields; cinematographer: John W. Boyle; cast: W.C. Fields (Dentist), Babe Kane (Daughter), Arnold Gray (Arthur, the iceman), Elise Cavanna (patient), Dorothy Granger (patient), Zedna Farley (dental assistant), Bobby Dunn (Dentist’s Caddy), Billy Bletcher (Bearded Russian patient); Runtime: 20; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Mack Sennett; Paramount/Criterion Collection; 1932)

“Hardcore misanthropic humor.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Dentist, directed by Leslie Pearce, was the first of four 20-minute comedy shorts the great W.C. Fields made in the 1930s with the legendary but fading Keystone Cops producer Mack Sennett. The comedy is outrageous, with Fields taking no prisoners in his portrayal of a heartless dentist who equally hates his daughter, friends and patients.

Fields uses his home as an office. In the first scene the dentist’s rebellious college-aged daughter (Baba Kane) upsets her bullying father by trying to see her iceman boyfriend (Arnold Gray), someone he disapproves of because he has no interest in love. In the next scene Fields plays a fast golf game before seeing his first appointment, and acts as a spoiled sport when he can’t even win after cheating and not only hurls his clubs in the water but his poor caddy. The dentist proves to be insensitive to his patients’ pain, as we see him treat a variety of them in various cruel ways. The lady patient (Dorothy Granger) is screaming with pain in the waiting room while Fields makes light talk with his golfer friend. When the dental assistant (Zedna Farley) tells him there’s someone waiting with a tooth ache, he snarls “Oh, the hell with her.” Trying to remove a tooth with pliers from a very tall patient (Elise Cavanna, his regular foil) he locks her legs around him and dry-humps her, a scene previously censored for TV but restored in the Criterion Collection.

There’s one rather pointed politically incorrect joke thrown in that Fields relates about “a doctor he knows who treated a man for yellow jaundice for years until he found out he was Japanese.”

Admirably Fields makes no compromises to gain favor with the audience; this is hardcore misanthropic humor. The film is atypical Fields in that there’s no wife or mother-in-law around to emasculate him and he doesn’t take a drink. Otherwise this is typical Fields at his most insulting, the eccentric comedian who has the needle out for all he comes into contact with his acerbic barbs. Only the weak ending, a happy one, doesn’t fit with the rest of the riotous film.