W.C. Fields and Me (1976)
Released amidst a glut of mid-70's movie biopics, W.C. Fields and Me, like its contemporaries, fails both to capture and convey the qualities that made its subject a star. What distinguishes itself from the pack though is a bravura performance from Rod Steiger in the lead role.
Narrated by Valerie Perrine as Carlotta Monti (the ‘Me’ of the title and Fields’ mistress for the last 14 years of his life), the biopic opens with Fields performing a skit in Ziegfeld’s Follies. Left destitute by his financial advisor, Fields decides to head off to California “to make pictures like Chaplin!” Though he is only momentarily glimpsed from behind, Chaplin’s presence is felt throughout the film. Indeed, the depiction of self-doubt and envy felt by Fields towards Chaplin casts more light on the comedian’s character than any other influence in the story, including that of his relationship with Miss Monti.
Special mention should also be made of Jack Cassidy’s fine performance as Field’s close drinking buddy John Barrymore. Somewhat poignantly, this was one of his last screen appearances before he too drank himself to an early death.
It would be another 16 years before director Hiller attempted another biopic, then seems to have heeded W.C. Fields' advice - "If at first you don't succeed, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.”
Narration by Carlotta Monti (Valerie Perrine) at the start of the movie states that what she knew of Fields' early years is what Fields himself told her. This disclaimer supposedly accounts for historical inaccuracies.
Though a deceitful banker did cause Fields to lose $50,000 in a few days, he was by no means penniless when he left set off for California. Fields left New York in a new Lincoln, carrying $350,000 in $1000 bills.
Though a little person nicknamed Shorty worked for Fields during his time with Ziegfeld, the two didn't travel together to California, nor did they work in a wax museum.
Biopic features a montage of Fields movies that he supposedly made before meeting Carlotta Monti. In reality, the two met on Million Dollar Legs (1932) which was made before all the films featured in the montage.
Biopic leaves impression that Fields' drinking buddy, Gregory La Cava, directed all of his films, or at least the most successful ones. La Cava actually directed only two of Fields' films, and they were both silent!
Though many stars are named and portrayed in the biopic, Baby LeRoy is renamed Baby Harold. Similarly, studio head Bannerman is a fictional character.
Biopic contains a few behind the scenes battles between W.C Fields and Baby LeRoy (renamed Baby Harold), as well as faithfully recreating the final scene from Poppy. Though the recreation of The Old Fashioned Way doesn't attempt to duplicate the original scene, it does ably showcase Steiger’s performance.