In the early comedy movies, particularly those of Buster Keaton, the plot wasn’t there to be followed by the audience. It was there to give the main character a reason to go from comedic setup to comedic finish. This is the expectation I came into for The Bank Dick with W.C. Fields. The only other movie of his I’ve seen is It’s a Gift, a hilarious movie which has scenes of Fields trying to run his store or get to sleep that are turned into absolute chaos, and have nothing to do with the plot.
Unfortunately, The Bank Dick is a little heavier on the plot side of things. Fields’ character, Egbert Sousé, is a lazy drunk who spends most of his time in the Black Pussy Cat. One day, he happens to be in the right place at the right time when a betrayal happens in a bank robbery, and he ends up looking like the hero who stopped one of the criminals. The bank decides to make him their security guard as a reward. This is also intertwined with Egbert getting completely fooled by a scam and getting his daughter’s boyfriend involved. He takes money from the bank to pay for it, and then the bank investigator comes up, meaning Egbert has to delay him from investigating.
This is where the movie really takes off. The first third of the movie is too filled with the perfect setups for jokes that don’t end up going anywhere. Egbert takes over as director of a movie, but it doesn’t really lead to anything funny. He becomes the security guard, and there’s a few gags, but it’s still not quite what you expect. Once the investigator comes up, it feels like the plot is finally set up and they can get to the gags already. And there are some great ones in here. Egbert attempts to get a doctor to put the investigator in bed rest for 4 days, and his increasingly less subtle hints to the doctor simply don’t go through. And then when the investigator shows up anyways, he repeatedly tries and fails to stop him from investigating. The movie’s key gag, though, involves its finale, a huge car chase through the countryside that lasts for several minutes and never lets up. It’s that shining moment I was really hoping for when I started watching, where the plot gets shelved and the whole thing goes into every joke it can come up with.
Of the two W.C. Fields movies I’ve seen, I guess this goes as my least favorite. It just takes too long to get to the really good gags. Once they’re there, they’re fantastic, but if you’re looking for the laughs to come early and often, go with It’s a Gift.