The Bank Dick (1940)
The Bank Dick (1940)

Genre: Slapstick Running Time: 1 hr. 12 min.

Release Date: November 29th, 1940 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Edward Cline Actors: W.C. Fields, Cora Witherspoon, Una Merkel, Evelyn Del Rio, Jessie Ralph, Franklin Pangborn, Shemp Howard, Richard Purcell, Grady Sutton

 


 

E

gbert Sousé (W.C. Fields) of Lompoc is relatively despised by everyone in his family. His nagging mother-in-law can’t stand his career choices (he fancies boondoggling), his wife is displeased with his drinking and smoking, his eldest child is embarrassed of him at school, and his youngest daughter throws things at his head. Even though he tries to lend a helping hand to strangers on the street, his know-how is limited and he’s prone to furnishing poor advice.

At the Black Pussy Cat Cafe, bartended by Joe Guelpe (a recognizable Shemp Howard), Egbert drowns his worries with liquor. As he leaves and strikes up a conversation with filmmaker Mackley Q. Greene (Richard Purcell), Sousé finds himself substituting on a one-reel movie set for an AWOL director on a 10-day bender. Handling stuffy lead actor Francois (Reed Hadley) and his incredibly short leading lady Miss Plupp (Heather Wilde), Egbert sets about rewriting the script before wandering off to accidentally foil a bank robbery of $50,000. Despite being proclaimed a hero of the city, he can’t impress his family, who continues to berate him and disregard his wild stories of gallantry. But grateful bank president Mr. Skinner (Pierre Watkin) offers Sousé the special officer position of undercover detective, so that the institution can continue thwarting criminal endeavors.

Fields ceaselessly yammers in his slurring, wheezy drawl, exaggerating his tall tales to dizzying extremes; he regularly threatens to hit his small child (and others); and he falls all over himself while attempting everyday activities. Light slapstick involves tumbling out of chairs, tussling with wee youths, and losing hats (all part of his signature orotundity). Egbert is jumpy, always in the way, and hopelessly confused (especially by a con man), making matters worse when he convinces a bank employee, Ogilthorpe Oggilby (Grady Sutton), to embezzle – which incidentally jeopardizes Og’s engagement to Sousé’s daughter Myrtle (Una Merkel). Not surprisingly, Sousé has connections to numerous unscrupulous associates willing to engage in all sorts of underhanded stunts – including poisoning and maiming a pesky bank auditor.

He’s really not a good guy, which makes rooting for him a difficult task indeed. Although everything expectedly turns out all right (to the point of sheer ludicrousness), Sousé never actually practices any true heroism, instead completely, unintentionally righting wrongs and rescuing purloined funds. It’s a prominently jumbled picture, switching from one gimmick to the next in a haphazard manner, as if the story was being written spontaneously – or as a series of unrelated skits tailored to the star. And considering that it’s a one-man vehicle, when Fields isn’t cracking a worthwhile verbal tongue-twister, none of the supporting characters provide much comic relief. Perhaps the most noteworthy element is the action-packed finale, culminating in some outrageous car chase sequences – which once again do not match the rest of the film.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10