Unlike “International House,” this movie has virtually no story to it, the film is essentially a pieced together series of situations used to set up gages. Not that this is a bad thing, but I had already seen a lot of these gages used in other places. I’d probably have to rate this film at a low 4 out of 5 (where as “International House” would be a solid 4 out of 5, I should probably start rating things on a scale of 100 as opposed to 5, perhaps in later posts).
There are about a dozen situations within the film used for comedy. In one Fields is working in his small grocery store, while one guy loudly demands cumquats, a blind and nearly deaf old man wreaks havoc in the store, Fields’ assistant babysits a young child (played by Baby LeRoy, an antagonist in several Fields Films. In another set up Fields tries to sleep (comedy fodder for many a great cartoon), while a stable of characters and happenstance keep him awake. Probably the best gage in the film, mostly because I haven’t really seen it use before, is when Fields tries to leave with his family in a heavily packed Model T, accompanied by many of the local townsfolk saying goodbye, after saying he’s not going to stop until he’s 500 miles away, he drives about ten feet before the car stalls and he has to get out to start it again, this goes on a few times.
One thing I really liked in the film comes toured the end. Fields has bought an Orange Grove out in California and has relocated the family there against the advice of even the man who sold it to him. When he arrives he finds that there is nothing growing on the property, the trees are all dead, weeds are everywhere and the house is completely rundown. His wife get’s vary mad at him (understandably so) and brings the children with her to leave (by walking away). Fields sits down on the porch of his ramshackle hut looking quite sad, mumbling about all he’s lost, and you kind of feel in your heart for the old man who is generally not a sympathetic character. His family has abandoned him, but while he sits there, his dog comes over and sits by his side. There is a Hollywood legend that apparently Fields was not fond of dogs, though this has since been disproven. He does pet the dog in this seen and gives clear meaning to the term “Man’s Best Friend.” It’s quite touching.
Spoiler Alert for the next two paragraphs.
As happens in so many of Field’s movies, despite being an old slowwitted drunk, he ends up striking it rich. Yes his land won’t grow anything, but there is a company building a racetrack in the adjacent lot and they need his property in order to build the grandstand. Through some shrewd negotiations (and the advice of his new neighbor) he is able to sell the lot for the purchase of a much better lot and $44,000, which in 1934 is roughly $771,000.
The movie is similar to my favorite Fields movie “The Bank Dick” which would be a good thing except that it is just a little too similar, and also generally less successful in all similar aspects. There is a minimal story that enables various random situations to be set up. In “It’s a Gift” Fields, a grocer, inherits money from his dead uncle, uses the money to buy an orange grove in California, moves the family out there, and by random chance gets to flip his land for a huge profit. In “The Bank Dick” Fields unknowingly stops a back robber, is give a job as head of security for the bank that was robbed, ends up investing in a Beef Stake Mine which (go figure) turns out to be real. His wife in both films are similar women who constantly criticize him, in both movies he has a teenage daughter who has fallen in love with some boy who gets involved in an assumedly fraudulent business venture with Fields, and in both films he has a younger child too, playing on Fields’ inimitable discomfort around children (of which I can only sympathies). In both films he plays a generally unhappy and not wealthy man (though that’s not hugely coincidental).
Again both movies are pretty good, but if you have to choose between seeing one or the other, see “The Bank Dick,” if you’ve cycled through most of his other movies then check this one out.