Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935)

“Sweetheart, I take an oath on your poor mother’s grave. I never saw the wrestling matches this afternoon. Things happened!” A classic W. C. Fields comedy where he stars as “Ambrose Wolfinger,” a “memory expert” for a manufacturing company who runs into a series of hilarious roadblocks as he desperately attempts to take an afternoon off for the first time in 25 years to attend a wrestling match. The hapless Wolfinger has to deal with his domineering wife “Leona” (Kathleen Howard), deadbeat brother-in-law “Claude” (Grady Sutton) and cranky mother-in-law “Cordelia” (Vera Lewis). The one saving grace in his life is his daughter “Hope” (Mary Brian) from a previous marriage. Highlights include the drunk, singing burglars in the cellar (“On the banks of the Wabash, far away …”), the “dead” mother-in-law story, the ticket-happy policemen, Wolfinger chasing a tire down the railroad tracks, the wrestler flying out of the ring and landing on Wolfinger, and Wolfinger winning out in the end. Look for Tor Johnson (Plan 9 from Outer Space) as one of the wrestlers named “Tosoff.” Although credited to Clyde Bruckman, the 65-minute film was actually directed by Fields (Bruckman was struggling with alcoholism at the time). Walter Brennan, the first actor to win three Academy Awards (Best Supporting Actor for Come and Get It, Kentucky and The Westerner), portrays “Legs Garnett,” one of the drunk burglars. According to The Film Encyclopedia, “[D]riven to drink by professional failure and marital problems and armed with a pistol he had borrowed from Buster Keaton, [Bruckman] shot himself to death in the restroom of a Hollywood restaurant after a meal for which he could not pay.” Carlotta Monti, who plays the secretary, was Fields’ mistress. The 1976 film WC Fields and Me is based on their relationship and stars Rod Steiger and Valerie Perrine. Yes, it’s as awful as it sounds!

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