The Old Fashioned Way (1934)


(director: William Beaudine; screenwriters: from a story by Charles Bogle [W.C. Fields]/Jack Cunningham/Garnett Weston; cinematographer: Benjamin F. Reynolds; cast: W.C. Fields (Great McGonigle), Joe Morrison (Wally Livingston), Judith Allen (Betty McGonigle), Jan Duggan (Cleopatra Pepperday), Nora Cecil (Mrs. Wendelschaffer), Baby Le Roy (Albert Pepperday), Joe Mills (Charles Lowell), Jack Mulhall (Dick Bronson), Tammany Young (Marmaduke Gump, company manager), Oscar Apfel (Mr. Livingston, Wally’s Father), Clarence H. Wilson (Sheriff Prettywillie); Runtime: 74; Paramount; 1934)
“W.C. Fields is in fine comic form.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A joyous W.C. Fields homage to the traveling vaudeville troupes during the end of the 19th century. It’s a different version from the silent screen bomb, as here Fields is allowed to ad lib. The director is the infamous William Beaudine, who was known for taking only “one take.”

W.C. Fields plays the Great McGonigle, the egotistical and windbag manager of a theatrical troupe that hasn’t been paid by him and because of their precarious financial situation have to sneak out of boarding houses without paying. They also must avoid the local sheriff hunting them down for previous infractions across the country.

The Great McGonigle and his theater company flees by habit from a sheriff with a court order for him to pay his bills after completing their show, as they hop on a train and head for the small town in Ohio called Bellefontaine. That’s where they are next scheduled to perform a melodrama called The Drunkard. McGonigle uses the hospitality of the local wealthy widow Cleopatra Pepperday (Jan Duggan) to avoid the show being closed, as she is willing to pay his debts and only wishes for a part in his play. He uses her as a foil for his comic antics and whittles her promised juicy part in the play down to one line, and even that is up in the air.

The funniest scene is when McGonigle dines with the widow and her young son Albert (Baby Le Roy). The kid tweaks McGonigle’s big red nose, drops his watch in a jar of molasses, throws food in his face, and gets the better of McGonigle.

There’s a bland romance between McGonigle’s nice daughter, Betty (Judith Allen), who is the star performer in the show, and rich college boy, runaway, Wally Livingston (Joe Morrison), who’s in love with Betty and follows her wherever she goes.

McGonigle’s manager, Gump (Tammany Young), caters to all his boss’s needs; such as, helping him dress, hurriedly packing the bags when they skip town, and going along with all of McGonigle’s chicanery.

W.C. Fields is in fine comic form, even doing a ridiculous juggling act with a cigar-box. The comedy all revolves around his financial woes, and is funny in an old-fashioned way.