"Fortune Favors the Bold"
What You Need To Know:
IT’S A GIFT is a hilarious series of comedy set pieces. It’s tied together by Fields’ character. Harold Bissonette is a grumpy and misanthropic everyman, with a compassionate streak, who’s annoyed by practically everyone and everything around him. He just wants to find his own little sunny paradise, with an adult beverage by his side. Eventually, Harold must stop avoiding things and finally stand up for himself to make his family happy and achieve his dream. IT’S A GIFT is a comedy delight!
IT’S A GIFT is a classic 1934 comedy starring W.C. Fields as a henpecked husband, harried father and shopkeeper who secretly sells his general store and blindly buys an orange grove farm in Los Angeles. IT’S A GIFT is an hilarious series of comedy set pieces, tied together by Fields’ character of the grumpy, misanthropic everyman who’s annoyed by practically everyone and everything and just wants to find his own little paradise of sunny peace and quiet, an adult beverage by his side.
The movie’s opening scene shows Fields, playing storeowner Harold Bisonette (“Biss-o-nay”), dealing with his loud, shouting, shrewish wife, his smartaleck son, and his selfish daughter, who busts in on Harold shaving and hogs the mirror. Harold juggles trying to finish shaving in the mirror until he must resort to tying a small hand-held mirror to a piece of string or wire hanging from the ceiling. Comically, the mirror won’t stay still, so Harold ends up performing a sort of comical ballet with the mirror while he holds a sharp straight razor.
The plot comes into play when the movie reveals that Harold expects to inherit some money from a dying uncle. His wife demands that he not spend the money on anything frivolous, like the California orange grove in Los Angeles he is interested in buying, Yes, dear, he replies, but of course, Harold, has already bought the alleged, and sold the general store he own too.
Cut to the general store, where Harold deals with a loud man demanding some cumquats, a sleepy store assistant, an elderly blind man who’s hard of hearing, and his neighbor’s little baby, who’s up to no good. By the end of the sequence, the blind man has demolished several windows with his cane, the store assistant has been no help at all, the loud man never gets his cumquats, and the baby has emptied a whole barrel full of molasses onto the floor. At that moment, the baby’s mother returns and demands to know why Harold let her baby get molasses on his new white shoes. Cut to Harold exiting the store and posting a sign, “Closed on account of molasses.”
The next set piece involves Harold leaving his nagging wife in the bedroom to sleep on the porch. The little hanging couch on the porch breaks, however. Then, just as he’s settling down again, the molasses baby who lives on the floor above repeatedly drops some grapes onto Harold’s face. One of the grapes almost chokes him to death when it falls into his open mouth. Shortly thereafter, Harold’s sleep is again interrupted by a milkman’s clanking bottles, a woman arguing with her teenage daughter, a coconut falling down the stairs, and a persistent insurance salesman looking for Karl LaFong.
Harold finally informs his wife and children he’s sold the general store and bought the alleged orange grove, even though the real estate man who sold it to him says he’s found out the land is really worthless and offers to return Harold’s money. This makes Harold totally suspicious, and he refuses to give back the land.
The family finally sets out for Los Angeles. A few more adventures follow, including one of the craziest picnics ever put on film. Will the land in Los Angeles be all that Harold envisions it to be?
Some people think the comic bits in IT’S A GIFT go on too long.
However, while it may not be as funny as the Marx Brothers, the best of Laurel and Hardy, or the funniest movies of Charlie Chaplin or Harold Lloyd, the slapstick comedy in IT’S A GIFT holds up really well. Unlike Buster Keaton, who takes on major problems (like retrieving a whole train during the Civil War in THE GENERAL), Fields is assaulted by annoying little problems, like a coconut falling down some stairs, a baby dropping grapes on his head from the floor above him while he’s trying to get some sleep or his wife always thinking the worst of what’s going on (e.g., at one point she demands to know why he’s talking to two women, but it’s really the two women who started talking to Fields, not the other way around). These are more subtle forms of humor, but they’re actually sometimes funnier because they are so subtle and petty and are actually something the average person might really encounter.
So, contrary to the complaints, the bits in IT’S A GIFT don’t really go on too long. Take, for instance, the bathroom mirror scene. There, the jokes keep building and building until Fields is contorting himself to follow the little revolving mirror he’s tied to a string or wire from the ceiling. It’s a very simple but highly effective, satisfying bit of comedy gold.
Now, Fields is definitely not as sympathetic as the other comics mentioned above, because he’s clearly a grumpy misanthrope who doesn’t like people and just wants to be left alone to indulge his own peccadilloes. Trying to make such an unlikeable man sympathetic is actually MORE daring. That said, Fields’ character in IT’S A GIFT goes overboard in trying to be kind to the deaf old blind man, who’s actually a selfish jerk. Harold’s not only trying to save his store from being demolished; he’s also trying to keep the old gent out of harm’s way. So, Harold Bissonette is actually a more compassionate man than he likes to reveal. It’s really the people around him who are a little nuts, selfish and overly judgmental.
IT’S A GIFT also contains some great lines of dialogue.
In one scene, the family dog starts playing tug of war with Harold over a pillow. The pillow’s feather start flying all over the grass. “Those were my mother’s feathers,” his wife scolds him. “I didn’t know your mother had feathers,” Harold replies sarcastically. In another scene, a man accuses Harold of being drunk. “Yeah, and you’re crazy,” Harold responds, “but I’ll be sober tomorrow, and you’ll be crazy for the rest of your life!” You can stand that witty line against any witty aside Groucho Marx ever uttered anywhere. In fact, Fields sometimes has a knack for making the most absurd comments that drop in from left field. Here we’re reminded of a scene in 1939’s YOU CAN’T CHEAT AN HONEST MAN, where Fields starts to play a ping pong match and tells his opponent that he was the champion of the Lesser Antilles, the archipelago in the Caribbean. It’s a totally absurd line, but it’s delivered so seriously, proudly and earnestly in that nasal voice of Fields that the viewer can’t help but burst out laughing.
The comical magic of IT’S A GIFT portrays an idiosyncratic individual who’s out of step with the world around him. The story revolves around Harold’s comical interactions with the people and things in that world. There’s nothing particularly religious or spiritual in that story. Eventually, however, instead of avoiding the annoying people and things that annoy him, Harold must finally stand up for himself to make his family happy and find his own little paradise in the sun. Fortune, after all, favors the bold! IT’S A GIFT is a comedy delight.