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W.C. Fields

 

 

THE DENTIST

 

Hal Roach-Pathé, 1932.  Directed by Leslie Pearce.  Camera:  John W. Boyle.  With W.C. Fields, Marjorie "Babe" Kane, Arnold Gray, Dorothy Granger, Elise Cavanna, Zedna Farley.

The Dentist is W.C. Fields' first of four 20 minute comedy shorts produced by Mack Sennett, which ranks one of his best reproduced vaudeville comedy supplements ever put on film.  Raunchy and very naughty, this comedy short pulls no punches, which is why this one has stood up well among Fields' other short subjects.  As in the best of Fields' domestic comedies, he has a dysfunctional family, but in this case he the dysfunctional one, an absent-minded father (possibly a widower since there is no wife present) with a grown daughter (Marjorie "Babe" Kane) in love with Arthur, the ice man (Harry Bowen).

The Dentist begins at home where the Dentist (W.C. Fields) is reading his newspaper at the breakfast table while his daughter tries to put in a big chunk of ice into the ice box.  He gets a telephone call from Charlie Frobisher (Bud Jamison) to come out for a game of golf.  The first half of the comedy short focuses on Fields' trials and tribulations in trying to win his hand of golf, ending in frustration as he throws his caddy (Bobby Dunn) into the pond, along with his golf clubs and bags.

The second half fades into the dental office where the dentist, with the assistance of his nurse (Zedna Farley), must encounter his scheduled appointments with numerous character patients, including a screaming woman with a toothache who had been bitten in the ankle by a dog.  "It's fortunate it wasn't a Newfoundland dog that bit you," quips Fields as he views her while she bends down to show him her scar; followed by a male patient in the waiting room who quietly walks out after hearing some screams; and highlighted by another woman patient (Elise Cavanna) who must submit to the drill followed by the dentist trying to yank the bad tooth out of her mouth as she is being dragged about with her bad tooth still attached to the dentist's pliers.  At the same time, his daughter, who is locked in her bedroom upstairs by her father so she doesn't run away and marry the ice man, stubbornly stamps her feet repeatedly on the floor, causing the plaster from the ceiling to fall into the patient's open mouth.  In spite of his unsympathetic nature, this dentist continues to acquire more patients as well as patience.

A crude comedy in every sense of the word, but one that has become famous over the years and worth reviewing because of it.  Even Fields' spoken dialogue, which he had written, includes lines such as, "Oh, the hell with her," which he tells his nurse after listening to a lady patient groaning in pain with her toothache. Even during the golf game earlier in the story, Fields nearly tells his caddy what he can do with the rule book.  One of the most famous lines, however, has Fields asking his patient, "Have you ever had this tooth pulled before?"  Dialogue and scenes like these must have caused a furor with the censors at the time of its release, especially the use of that motory sounding drill, which gets the biggest laughs from its viewers.

Also in the cast are: Billy Bletcher as the Russian patient; Dorothy Granger as Miss Peppitone; and Emma Tansey as the old lady at the golf course, among others.

For many years, The Dentist had become a public domain title, and distributed on video cassette through various distributors, often featured with two other WC Fields shorts as The Golf Specialist (RKO, 1930) and The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933).  These have also been a favorite on commercial and cable television as fillers between feature films during the late night hours.  Recently, all of Fields' sound comedy shorts have been restored to better picture and sound quality, and these clearer prints were packaged through Public Media Home Vision Video in the late 1990s.  While it's great to see these comedy gems in sharp focus, along with other ad-ons such as Fields' ten minute silent short, Pool Sharks (1915), The Pharmacist (1933), and The Barber Shop (1933), the only disappointment in turn happens to be The Dentist.  The reason being that although restored, The Dentist not only includes new background music, which is nowhere to be heard during the storyline in its original print, except for during the opening and closing credits, but the movie itself has been slightly shortened with the raunchy dialogue substituted by different lines or covered up by intrusive underscoring, which takes away from the film's original intent.  At present, the censored and cleaned up print, possibly from a reissue after the production code had taken effect, is the one used when shown on American Movie Classics in 2000, and on Turner Classic Movies in June 2001 when the station honored W.C. Fields as its "star of the month." To see The Dentist uncensored and in its full glory, it would be best to locate an older video copy dating back to the 1980s.  Nonetheless, with the exception of its weak ending, the uncensored version to The Dentist ranks the best of the four Fields/Sennett comedy shorts for Paramount, and should be seen to be believed.

Internet Movie Database

It is only after the very absent-minded W.C. Fields first indulges in a lot of smart gab with Babe Kane, then wrestles around with a cake of ice and plays a golf game strikingly reminiscent of his Ziegfeld "Follies" acts, that this grand comedy gets into his dentistry office.  It reaches its best when Fields tends to the dental requirements of two feminine patients.  A wrestling match tooth-extraction gag is provocative of laughs and a final adventure is with a heavily whiskered man, upon whom Fields uses a stethoscope to find his mouth and brings a shotgun into use when he flushes a covey of birds from the bushels of hair.  Fine dialogue is delivered in the typical Fields fashion.

The Films of W.C. Fields,
by Donald Deschner
The Citadel Press, New York, 1966