Nov 11, 2021
By Joey Arnone
As is the case with many of the great comedians of Hollywood’s golden era, W.C. Fields has an extensive background in vaudeville, and has utilized his talents from this period consistently across his film work. Based on a story by “Charles Bogle” (one of Fields’ many various writing pseudonyms), 1934’s The Old Fashioned Way sees him using his vaudeville background to a great extent, more so than in many of his other films. Fields plays The Great McGonigle, a theatre manager who is traveling with his theatre troupe across the country to put on performances of William H. Smith’s 1844 temperance play The Drunkard. Shenanigans ensue when bill collectors and local sheriffs pose a threat to their upcoming performance.
Starting off with a hilarious opening scene depicting Fields just missing a bill collector upon hopping on a train with his troupe to the next city, The Old Fashioned Way has its share of memorable scenes and, of course, witty one-liners from Fields. The film’s centerpiece is undoubtedly the 20-minute segment in which the troupe performs The Drunkard, culminating in a prolonged scene of Fields performing as a solo act, highlighting his impressive juggling abilities and providing a perfect opportunity for him to showcase his undeniable talent as a vaudeville act.
As is the case with many a Fields film, The Old Fashioned Way is remembered not necessarily for its plot, but mainly for a handful of comedic moments, as well as Fields’ always captivating screen presence. There is a romantic subplot thrown in between McGonigle’s daughter Betty (Judith Allen) and aspiring actor Wally (Joe Morrison) that feels clunky and awkward, but that’s typical Fields fare—it’s par for the course. At a brisk 70 minutes, it’s all a Fields fan could want out of the great comedian, although he would certainly deliver more memorable and consistent films later on in his career.