It’s a Gift

Nov 24, 2021
Web Exclusive

By Joey Arnone

Already an established screen presence by the time of its release, W.C. Fields provides one of his most memorable outings in 1934’s It’s a Gift, perhaps the first of his films that could be considered a classic. The film takes everything that made him an iconic performer—his bitter and pessimistic but altogether lovable persona, knack for physical comedy, and ability to pull off side-splitting running gags—and throws it all together into a nice, if not necessarily neat, finished product.

It’s a Gift sees Fields as Harold Bissonette, a grocery store owner looking to escape his humdrum everyday life and purchase an orange grove in California, much to the chagrin of his nagging wife. The plot itself, as is the case with most of Fields’ films, isn’t necessarily important. It’s rather used as more of an accessory that is utilized when necessary, but the crux of the film’s power lies in its seemingly never-ending slew of running gags, many of which were recycled from Fields’ previous stage sketches. Perhaps the most iconic in the film would be a prolonged scene in which Fields tries to catch some rest on his back porch, but is constantly interrupted by noisy neighbors, irritating salesman, and a very obnoxious toddler on the floor above (played by Baby Leroy, a popular child actor who had roles in many Fields films). Even though it has nothing at all to do with the plot, it is perhaps the film’s centerpiece, and what it is ultimately most known for.

Other hilarious moments include the sketch at the grocery store, in which an impatient customer repeatedly demands kumquats as Bissonette is busy trying to help a blind man who ends up wreaking havoc on much of his inventory. Looking back upon It’s a Gift, most would not likely remember the film in terms of its narrative progression, as it is constantly interrupted by gags such as the aforementioned grocery store skit. But it is these very moments that make the film so special and endearing, and would ultimately place Fields in the top pantheon of early sound-era comedians, alongside the Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy.


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