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My Little Chickadee (DVD)

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Genre: Comedy / Theatrical Release: 1940 / Parental Guidance / Director: Edward F. Cline / Actors: W.C. Fields, Mae West, Joseph Calleia ... / DVD released 2008-05-05 at Universal Pictures UK / Features of the DVD: Black & White, Full Screen, PAL

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      22.06.2010 14:56
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      Western caper

      My Little Chickadee a 1940 comedy directed by Edward Cline and is famous for its pairing of Mae West and WC Fields. The film places the two stars in the Old West where a vague plot supplies a series of escapades for them to become embroiled in. My Little Chickadee begins with the buxom Flower Belle Lee (West) being held up in a stagecoach by the "Masked Bandit" who promptly kidnaps her and rides off on his horse. When Flower turns up again in the town of Little Bend she seems far from traumatised by her experience. She saunters back perfectly happy and in possession of a bag of gold the Bandit gave her for her trouble. "I was in a tight spot but I managed to wriggle out of it," she quips. Later though, Flower is seen secretly meeting the Masked Bandit again by the town gossip Mrs Gideon (Margaret Hamilton) who blabs on her.

      Flower is asked to leave Little Bend by the judge (Addison Richards) until she has made a respectable married woman of herself. She heads for the town of Greasewood by stagecoach and along the way it picks up bumbling hustler Cuthbert J Twillie (Fields) who Flower mistakenly believes has money and enters into a (fake) marriage with. Their adventures play out in amusing fashion with various vignettes including Indians, card games, bandits and saloon bars...

      This burlesque caper is very, very funny at times and the two big stars both get their fair share of the limelight here. According to legend, West wrote the screenplay was highly irritated when she later found out Fields had been permitted to write some of his own scenes. They did not get on offscreen at all and therefore never made another film together which is a shame I think as the big screen double act they form here is a lot of fun and would have been good for at least a couple more films - even if both stars were considered to be slightly past their best at the time. I think it is in fact probably a strength of My Little Chickadee that both had some control over their characters and input into their own contributions. So we get some enjoyable scenes of them together and then some equally enjoyable bits where they do their own thing apart. Their very first meeting on the stagecoach contains some wonderful banter. "Flower Belle," drawls Fields. "What a euphonious appellation. Easy on the ears and a banquet for the eyes."

      Despite the potential fireworks of this pairing they work pleasantly together onscreen with their different styles. Fields with his droll wordplay and comic clumsiness and West with her natural poise, confidence and uncanny knack of making everything she says sound suggestive. "I generally avoid temptation... unless I can't resist it." Despite getting slightly less screen time than his co-star it is Fields though who provides most of the laughs in a brilliant comic performance. One of the things I find funniest about Fields is his constant battle against inanimate objects which - just like people, children and animals - always seem to conspire against him. Fields has a very funny scene where he is at a large dinner in an awkwardly placed seat and keeps getting feathers and tassels from a curtain in his face. It's an incredibly simple idea/scene but absolutely brilliant in the hands of Fields.

      It's a shame that many people probably have only a vague knowledge of his work these days and have never seen things like this and the brilliant It's a Gift. Fields is given some great moments in My Little Chickadee. Fighting off Indians with a child's catapult, cheating at cards, idly chatting and talking nonsense to a drunken barfly. Many of his asides and witticisms are very enjoyable and he has a fantastic reply when he appears about to be hung and is asked what his final request is. In My Little Chickadee, Fields is entertaining just bantering with a porter who has carried his cases. "By the way, my ski shoes and hockey mask will be up on the next train along with the polo pony. I understand the countryside abounds here with wild game: flamingoes... wine wombats... Indian civets."

      Mae West hadn't been in a film for three years at the time and was considered a slightly faded star but she's clearly up for this clash of the comic titans and delivers her double entendres and risque retorts with a great sense of fun and swagger. West is funny showing contempt for the judge who asks to leave Little Bend in the court scene and her escapades include getting a job as a school teacher where the boys are a lot older than she expected ("Oh, arithmetic... I was always pretty good at figures myself") and substituting a goat for herself in the marital chamber when she finds out Cuthbert J Twillie doesn't really have any money. Despite the fact that she and Fields didn't see eye to eye offscreen and bickered over what should go into the picture it is rather moving when both use a variation of one of each other's catchphrases in a nice moment together. It's two great stars of the era doffing their cap to each other in a mark of respect.

      Another member of the cast who deserves a mention is Margaret Hamilton as the prudish town gossip and busybody Mrs Gideon. Hamilton of course played the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz - which was released only a year before My Little Chickadee. On the whole this is still a very funny film with a lot of memorable moments. Mae West's act has perhaps dated a little more than the clowning and verbal dexterity of Fields so it is the latter who just about steals the film here. "Sleep!" declares Fields. "The most beautiful experience in life. Except drink." Both stars are a charismatic and enjoyable presence though and My Little Chickadee remains a great deal of fun.

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