W. C. FIELDS: STRAIGHT UP is part biography, part compilation and all wonderful. Written by Joe Adamson (also behind the equally wonderful THE MARX BROTHERS IN A NUTSHELL) and Ronald J. Fields (The Great Man's grandson and author of two of the best books on Fields), it is a perfect introduction for Fields neophytes to the comedian as well as a refreshing reminder for long time fans as to why they love Fields in the first place.
As an introduction to Fields, the film gives you the basics of his life without delving too deeply. Film historian Leonard Maltin is on hand to talk about Fields the comedian, while Will Fowler, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Gloria Jean and Madge Kennedy, all of whom knew the man personally, add their own remembrances to the mix. Ronald J. Fields, who compiled his grandfather's notes, letters and scripts in to the illuminating quasi-autobiography W. C. Fields By Himself, shares his vast knowledge of the man and the myth.
What is stunning about this documentary is how it displays how many classic scenes and routines Fields had developed in his career in vaudeville, on Broadway and in movies. The back porch and grocery store scenes from IT'S A GIFT, the juggling routine from THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY, bits and pieces of card games from MY LITTLE CHICKADEE, the Shug Indian story from MISSISSIPPI, the golf game from The Golf Specialist, the pool table routine from SIX OF A KIND - they're all here, and more, edited so you get the gist and some of the highlights of the routine without giving up all the goods of each scene. There are even some rare clips of Fields in silent films such as SALLY OF THE SAWDUST, SO'S YOUR OLD MAN and others. It's a cornucopia of classic Fields footage that, like the biographical segments, gives you just enough to want more.
To that end, I would recommend just about any Fields film for the newcomer, but especially THE OLD FASHIONED WAY, IT'S A GIFT, THE MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE and THE BANK DICK, and for more about the man himself, try Ronald J. Fields's book mentioned above as well as his filmography/biography W. C. Fields: A Life on Film, Simon Louvish's The Man on the Flying Trapeze, and James Curtis's W. C. Fields: A Biography. ½ - JB