It's a Gift  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

It's a Gift is a 1934 comedy film starring W. C. Fields. It was Fields's sixteenth sound film, and his fifth in 1934 alone. It was directed by Norman McLeod, who had directed Fields in his cameo as Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland (1933).

It concerns the trials and tribulations of a grocer as he battles a shrewish wife, an incompetent assistant, and assorted annoying children, customers, and salesmen. The film contains certain routines, reprised having been honed, that Fields had developed 1915-1925. Fields often tried to recapture on film original sketches that had been the basis of his stage success. Thus 'The Picnic', 'A Joy Ride' and most famously, 'The Back Porch', all become segments of It's a Gift.

Lesser known than some of Fields' later works such as The Bank Dick, the film is perhaps the best example of the recurring theme of the Everyman battling against his domestic entrapment. Historians and critics have often cited its numerous memorable comic moments. It is one of several Paramount Pictures in which Fields contended with child actor Baby LeRoy.

Plot summary

After he inherits some money, Harold Bissonette (mispronounced by his pompous wife as "biss-on-ay") decides to give up the grocery business, move to California and run an orange ranch. Despite his family's objections and the news that the land he bought is worthless, Bissonette packs up and drives out to California with his nagging wife Amelia (Kathleen Howard), self-involved daughter Mildred (Jean Rouverol) and bothersome son Norman (Tommy Bupp). As they pass several prosperous orange groves, his wife softens and figures he made a good purchase. The information about the orange grove is confirmed: his barren plot contains only a tumbledown shack, and a tumbleweed. Disgusted, his wife and family are walking out on him. As he sits down on the car's running board, the car collapses under his weight.

However, just when Harold is about to lose all hope, his luck takes a dramatic turn: a neighbor informs him that a developer is desperate to acquire his land in order to build a grandstand for a race track. Finally standing up for himself, and to his nagging wife, Harold holds out for a large sum of money (including a commission for the friendly neighbor), as well as a demand that the developer buy him an orange grove like the one in the brochure he has been carrying throughout the film. The film ends with Harold sitting at an outdoor breakfast table squeezing orange juice into a glass, while his happy family takes off for a ride in their new car. The now-contented Harold pours a flask of booze into the small amount of orange juice in the glass.

The film is a chronicle of the "many titanic struggles between Harold Bissonnette and the universe. There will be battle of wills between father and daughter, between male and female, between man and a variety of uncontrollable objects." The plot is almost secondary to the series of routines which make up the film. Over the course of the picture, Harold fails to prevent a blind customer (and Baby LeRoy) from turning his store into a disaster area; attempts to share a bathroom mirror with his self-centered, high-pitched gargling daughter; has a destructive picnic on private property; and in the film's lengthy centerpiece, is driven to sleep on the porch by his haranguing wife, and is kept awake all night by neighbors (including further trouble with the mother of the baby who caused damage in his grocery store), salesmen, and assorted noises and calamities.

A well-known, and often somewhat misquoted Fields comment occurs at the climax of the film, as Harold is haggling with the developer, who angrily claims that Harold is drunk. Harold responds, "Yeah, and you're crazy; and I'll be sober tomorrow and ... you'll be crazy for the rest of your life!"

The windfall for Fields' character and the resultant happy ending of this film echo the climax of his earlier 1934 release, Man on the Flying Trapeze.


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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "It's a Gift" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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