You Can't Cheat an Honest Man


Comedy / Family

Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 77%
IMDb Rating 7 10 1677

Keywords:   circus, elephant, sideshow

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April 23, 2022 at 10:43 PM


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1.32 GB
English 2.0
23.976 fps
1 hr 18 min
P/S counting...

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by theowinthrop 10 / 10

That threatened ride on a buzz saw

It is true that Edgar Bergan and Charlie McCarthy were far more effective in their national audience on radio than in the movies. This was due to the close-up affect of cinematography on Bergen's face - he could not hide the fact that his lips moved a little. When on a stage in a nightclub or in vaudeville he'd be too far away to be seen moving his lips. Not so on film.

But Bergan and McCarthy put ventriloquism on the map. Their act and radio show took the art of throwing one's voice and brought a biting humor to it, giving the dummy a real personality: a wise guy little man, with an eye for the ladies and an eye for making trouble for people he did not like (among whom was Fields). The feud of McCarthy and Fields mirrored the contemporary feud of Fred Allan and Jack Benny, except that Allan and Benny were both real. But on radio Charlie was as real as "Uncle Claude" was, so the fact that it was a block of wood that was manipulated fighting a real life man did not matter. The public just loved Charlie reminding Fields of his alcoholism, in particular his large red nose. And the public loved the threats of Fields to give Charlie a ride on a buzz saw.

Because of the strong personality of McCarthy, a movie audience even today looks at this film and tends to ignore Bergen's slight lip movements. Charlie is the real personality of interest, not Edgar - here playing a hard working young man who would like to marry Vicki Whipsnade (Constance Moore) but is resigned that she wants to marry a wealthy young wastrel instead. Bergen could act (look at his performance in I REMEMBER MAMA, as Ellen Corby's boyfriend/husband, and his comic scene there with Oskar Homolka regarding the dowry). But he did not have to act as Bergen here - all he had to do was let Charlie do his job (and, for that matter, let Mortimer Snerd do his work too in two scenes). The tricks used by the director to have scenes where Charlie appears without Bergan are just even more effective, as they enhance the idea of an independent comic personality coming out of the dummy.

For Fields there are many choice moments too. His walk, supposedly naked after a shower, across the circus grounds - hidden behind people carrying items, or elephants and other animals, until a lady screams and faints (and Fields is finally physically revealed to the audience) is a gem. So is his wrecking the Bel-Goodies engagement party, first by his mad ping pong match, and then by his insistence of telling the story of how his life was saved once by an intelligent rattlesnake (not realizing that Mrs. Bel-Goody hates even the mention of snakes). His interactions with the circus staff, with the idiotic Grady Sutton, with labor union organizer Edward Brophy, and with the various people buying tickets for the circus, or for that matter mispronouncing his name as "Larceny Whipsnake" are priceless. So is his own attempt at ventriloquism: he does it so you can't see his lips move, but you just can't believe he is throwing his voice. Well he is throwing dust or something else at that moment.

But it is his running confrontations with McCarthy, some of which he actually loses (he has one where he has to bribe Charlie at one point to keep quiet) that maintains the audience's attention. The film is one of Fields' best ones, and deservedly retains it's popularity to this day.

Reviewed by bkoganbing 9 / 10

"Somebody Took The Cork Out Of My Lunch"

You Can't Cheat An Honest Man finds widower W.C. Fields running a second rate circus and trying to stay one step ahead of the law as he's creditors just about every place he goes. His children, John Arledge and Constance Moore attend a really posh Ivy League type school and you sympathize with Fields because you know this why he's probably not paying his bills. One also can speculate what his wife must have put up with back in the day.

Moore on a visit to Dad's show falls for the ventriloquist sideshow performer Edgar Bergen. But Bergen doesn't really get along with Fields or I should say his alter ego Charlie McCarthy doesn't.

The Fields-McCarthy feud was legendary on radio and it might seem hard to fathom how a ventriloquist could entertain on radio. But the characters he created were so powerful and had such a hold on the minds of the public that they were real. Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd were characters in their own right, they almost but not quite gained separate identities away from Edgar Bergen.

Anyway on Bergen's show, Bill Fields was a frequent guest and the repartee between Fields and McCarthy is still classic. Even without knowing that background, today's audience can still enjoy You Can't Cheat an Honest Man because the comedy is eternal.

There's not much of a plot except for Moore loving Bergen, but being ready to marry snobbish James Bush to help her father in his financial troubles. I'm sure you can figure out how that goes, especially when prospect in-laws Thurston Hall and Mary Forbes meet Fields at a little clambake they're throwing.

The circus offers a range of opportunity for some great gags including trying to pry Charlie McCarthy out of an alligator, an elephant who gives Fields showers on command and of course sawing Charlie in half during a magic act.

Still it's the repartee between Fields and Bergen and another of the unforgettable characterizations that Bill Fields brings us which makes You Can't Cheat An Honest Man a comedy classic.

Reviewed by planktonrules 7 / 10

Very familiar material bolstered by Edger Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.

W.C. Fields made several films that were essentially the same stories with a few variations. While I love Fields films, I am not a huge fan of these derivative tales. They are derivative but still mildly entertaining---and far from his best work. "Poppy", "The Old Fashioned Way" and "You Can't Cheat and Honest Man" all share many story elements--many. Each have Fields playing the leader of a two-bit circus or acting troop. Each has a grown daughter who Fields dotes upon. Each has Fields on the verge of bankruptcy. And, in each, the daughter faces a crisis. Because of this, even if this film is done well, it's still very familiar.

Fortunately for "You Can't Cheat and Honest Man", there is one major difference that sets it apart. Because of the success of Fields and Charlie McCarthy on the radio, the folks at Universal decided to add Edger Bergen and his dummies to the movie to give it a bit of punch. Bergan's humor was quite welcome and made this film less sentimental than the two previous incarnations...and a bit funnier.

Overall, it's worth seeing. However, if at all possible, try watching one of Fields' best films first to see just how good he can be with a more original story. "It's a Gift" is probably his best, though "The Bank Dick" and "You're Telling Me" are all wonderful Fields films. They are similar in that in each W.C. appears to fall on his face but by the end has become HUGELY successful, but otherwise each is very unique and better suited for his great personality.

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