DirectorErle C. Kenton
Release Date(s)1934 (April 19, 2022)
Studio(s)Paramount Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: C+
The career of W.C. Fields spanned from the silent era into the first two decades of talkies, and like some of his sound films, his 1934 vehicle You’re Telling Me! was actually a remake of one of his silent pictures, So’s Your Old Man. Both films were adapted from the story Mr. Bisbee’s Princess by Julian Street, with the screenplay in this case by Walter DeLeon, Paul M. Jones, J.P. McEvoy, and an uncredited Fields. (Interestingly, You’re Telling Me! features a character named Charles Bogle, which Fields would adopt as a pseudonym for many of his later films.) Sam Bisbee (Fields) is a dreamer who hopes to sell some of his inventions, especially his new puncture-proof tire. His daughter Pauline (Joan Marsh) wants to marry the wealthy Bob Murchison (Buster Crabbe), but Bob’s upper-class mother (Kathleen Howard) disapproves. After fortune seems to turn against Bisbee, he contemplates suicide on a train ride home, but a chance encounter with the Princess Lescaboura (Adrienne Ames) unleashes a chain of events that may turn the tides of fate.
You’re Telling Me! was directed by the surprisingly versatile Max Sennett veteran Erle C. Kenton, who was equally adept with comedy and horror, helming features as varied as Pardon My Sarong and Island of Lost Souls. Kenton knew when to get out of the way and let his actors shine, and You’re Telling Me! is no exception. Fields was a gifted physical comedian with a background in juggling, and so Kenton kept his cameras back and let Fields do his work. There’s an impressively lengthy single take with Bisbee rolling his tire down the sidewalk while Kenton filmed from a moving car in the street, but the most memorable bit is the famous golf routine at the climax of the film. Fields had first done it in So’s Your Old Man, and had already recycled it once for the short The Golf Specialist, but when something works, it works. Yet the comedy isn’t really the most interesting thing about You’re Telling Me!.
Unlike many Fields characters, whose schemes can make them the agents of their own destruction, Sam Bisbee is a likable character who doesn’t deserve the way that people treat him. His only real flaw is a not-unexpected love of drink, but in this case, even that isn’t really a major issue for him. At first, Bisbee’s daughter seems to be the only one who recognizes his inherently sweet nature, and while his wife in the film isn’t a harpy, she still doesn’t value him enough, and she’s actually embarrassed by him. Even when he’s at his lowest point and ready to end it all, he’s brought out of it because he becomes worried about someone else, and wants to help. The meeting on the train between Bisbee and the Princess is a genuinely touching scene, with Bisbee relating his own woeful life story not because he feels sorry for himself, but rather because he feels sorry for her. It’s all a misunderstanding, of course, but the Princess is able to see something in him that most people have overlooked, and that lays the groundwork for one of the most triumphant turnarounds in any Fields film.
Cinematographer Alfred Gilks shot You're Telling Me! on 35 mm film using spherical lenses, framed at 1.37:1 for its theatrical release. Kino Lorber describes this Blu-ray version as using a “brand-new 2K master,” but there’s no indication of the elements that were used for it, though it’s likely a fine-grained master positive. There’s some variance here and there, with a few shots appearing softer than others, so it’s also possible that the master uses different elements for some of the material. There are small scratches and other damage throughout, but nothing that’s too distracting. Otherwise, there’s good contrast, solid black levels, and an accurate grayscale.
Audio is offered in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. The level of background noise is higher here than on most of the other Fields titles that Kino Lorber has released, but it’s still clear enough, and the dialogue stays intelligible.
The following extras are included (note that the extras here are identical to the ones that Kino has featured with Man on the Flying Trapeze, trailers included):
- Wayne and Shuster Take an Affectionate Look at W.C. Fields (SD – 51:52)
- The Old Fashioned Way Trailer (SD – 2:37)
- You Can't Cheat an Honest Man Trailer (HD – 1:37)
- The Bank Dick Trailer (SD – 1:54)
- My Little Chickadee Trailer (SD – 1:36)
- Alice in Wonderland Trailer (SD – 2:34)
Wayne and Shuster Take an Affectionate Look at W.C. Fields is a 1964 television special featuring the Canadian comedy duo Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster. Wayne and Shuster aren’t well known outside of Canada, and they may not even be that well remembered in their home country, but they serve as tolerable (if not particularly amusing) hosts. The show is a fairly random look at Fields and his career, with some biographical information, and clips from his films. The clips are the most interesting part, because while there’s a lot of familiar material like the golf routine from You’re Telling Me!, many of them are a bit more obscure, like the poker game from the Bing Crosby vehicle Mississippi. Unfortunately, Wayne and Shuster also provide editorial comments during the clips that aren’t very helpful. They over-emphasize the conniving nature of the characters that Fields tended to play, while overlooking the poignancy that was also present. At least at the very end of the special, Wayne and Shuster finally acknowledge the longsuffering but ultimately winning nature of many of these characters.
You’re Telling Me! isn’t a title that immediately springs to mind when thinking of W.C. Fields classics, but it deserves more attention than it gets these days. It may lack the breakneck pace of It’s a Gift or The Bank Dick, but it allows his underlying pathos to come to the surface for once, and it’s nice to see that subtext turned into text.
- Stephen Bjork