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The Bank Dick (released as The Bank Detective in the United Kingdommarker) is a 1940 comedy film. (At the time, dick was common USA slang for detective.) W. C. Fields plays a character named Egbert Sousé who trips a bank robber and ends up a security guard as a result. The character is a drunk who must repeatedly remind people in exasperation that his name is pronounced "Sousé – accent grave [sic] over the 'e'!", because people keep calling him "Souse" (slang for drunkard). In addition to bank and family scenes, it features Fields pretending to be a film director and ends in a chaotic car chase. The Bank Dick is considered a classic of his work, incorporating his usual persona as a drunken henpecked husband with a shrewish wife, disapproving mother-in-law, and savage children.

The film was written by Fields, using the alias Mahatma Kane Jeeves ("My hat, my cane, Jeeves!"), and directed by Edward F. Cline. Shemp Howard, one of the Three Stooges, plays a bartender.

In 1992, The Bank Dick was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congressmarker as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Highlights

Fields by now was considerably heavier than in his henpecked-husband pictures of just five or six years earlier, and his voice suggests that he may have been suffering from a cold during the film's production. Nonetheless, the film contains some well-known scenes and dialogue:

  • The family frequently mentions Egbert's smoking while upstairs in his room, a fact which he tries to hide. In one scene, Egbert comes downstairs and when his family mentions his smoking, he uses a quick movement of his lips to "fold" the still-burning cigarette into his mouth so that he can walk out unmolested.
  • A couple of times in the "Black Pussy Cat Cafe", the town saloon, Egbert says to a capped bottle of whiskey, "Take off your hat in the presence of a gentleman."
  • Egbert entertains a group of children by taking a drag from a cigarette, placing it in his ear, and exhaling multiple puffs of smoke, making it seem as though he is using his ear to inhale the smoke. He cautions them that smoking is an adult activity, and adds, "I didn't take up smoking until I was nine."
  • Egbert: "Was I in here last night, and did I spend a 20 dollar bill?"
Joe the bartender (Shemp): "Yeah!"
Egbert: "Oh, boy, is that a load off my mind. (chuckles) I thought I'd lost it!"
  • Upon being introduced to his daughter's beau, Og Oggilby (Grady Sutton), a functionary at the local bank, Egbert remarks, "Og Oggilby...sounds like a bubble in a bathtub."
  • In order to divert Pinkerton J. Snoopington the bank examiner (Franklin Pangborn) from discovering Og's embezzlement of bank funds, Egbert takes him to the bar and surreptiously asks Joe if "Michael Finn" has been in the bar yet today, a signal that Joe is to drug the bank examiner's drink.
  • When Snoopington is too ill to proceed with the audit, Egbert escorts him back to his room on the second floor of the "New Old Lompoc House" hotel. Moments later Egbert comes running down the stairs and dashes out the door, returning with Snoopington, who is apparently not that much worse for having fallen out the window of his room.
  • Egbert repeats (and mangles) a con-artist's sales pitch for the 'Beefsteak Mine' thus: "Ten cents a share. Telephone sold for five cents a share. How would you like something better for ten cents a share? If five will get you ten, ten will get you twenty. Beautiful home in the country, upstairs and down. Beer flowing through the estate over your grandmother's paisley shawl." By the end of the film, it turns out to be a sound investment after all, his family adores him, he lives a life of luxury and everyone lives happily ever after.


In talking Og into embezzling from the bank and encountering resistance, Egbert says: "Don't be a luddy duddy, Don't be a moon calf. Don't be a jabbernow. You're not those, are you?" (Fields, whose ear for the preposterous-sounding phrase, word or name was unparalleled, claimed to have found the words in a dictionary.)

The film contains some elements of Fields' "everyman" films from the early 1930s, in which he plays the verbally-abused spouse who attains financial security and finally the respect of his nagging family. In this film, he parodies that character to some degree, as much of the criticism is deserved. Early in the film, as the family is bad-mouthing Egbert (for example, taking money from the younger daughter's piggybank and leaving IOU's), a humorously-orchestrated version of "No Place Like Home" plays in the underscore. At the end, with the family now wealthy and playing the parts of exaggerated polite-society characters, "No Place Like Home"" plays again, in a more sincere-sounding melody.

The fake-French pronunciation of his name, established in the film's very first scene, echoes the running joke in It's a Gift, in which Fields and his wife were constantly telling people to pronounce the family name, Bisonette, as "bi-son-AY".

On his way out the door for the last time in the picture, the butler hands Egbert his hat and cane (living up to Fields' writing pseudonym), and Egbert executes two of his time-honored "juggling" bits: bouncing the cane on the floor and catching it on the rebound; then putting his top hat on and catching it on the tip of the cane instead. As he strolls down the sidewalk, he whistles "Listen to the Mocking Bird". Catching site of the bartender (Shemp), Egbert changes direction and walks quickly toward his pal, as the song finishes in the underscore. (Coincidentally, the song was a recurring Three Stooges theme song at one time.)

Reviews

The movie has many favorable reviews of it. Respected film critic Leslie Halliwell said "probably the best Fields vehicle there is" and W.C. Fields Biographer Robert Lewis Taylor called it "One of the great classics of American comedy". Otis Ferguson, however, wasn't so keen on it. He said "When the man (W.C. Fields) is funny he is terrific... but the story is makeshift, the other characters are stock types, the only pace discernible is the distance between drinks or the rhythm of the fleeting seconds it takes Fields to size up trouble and duck the hell out."

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