The Pharmacist (1933)
Director: Arthur Ripley
Cast: W.C. Fields, Marjorie Kane, Elise Cavanna
Synopsis: A henpecked but stoic pharmacist tries to maintains his precarious balance while dealing with demanding customers and his dysfunctional family.
The Pharmacist, W. C. Fields’ reworking for Mack Sennett of a sketch he performed on stage for the Ziegfeld Follies bids, along with The Fatal Glass of Beer (also made in 1933) to be one of his most bizarre films. Where The Fatal Glass of Beer eschews subtlety in its efforts to parody sentimental Hollywood melodramas, however, The Pharmacist often displays a quieter brand of insanity. Though that still doesn’t stop Fields from presenting us with a character whose daughter, dressed in clothes ten years too young for her, jumps on a pogo stick to mix the contents of her father’s cocktail shaker and eats caged birds when her hunger grows too great to bear.
While such madness raises plenty of laughs, the subtler touches are equally effective; at times you ask yourself exactly what it is you’re actually laughing at, and no attempts at description could hope to capture the inspirational humour of Fields. Anyone who has seen the film, however, and watched Fields’ touchingly tentative attempts to interest a difficult customer in the bizarre range of stock he carries will know what I mean.
The Pharmacist isn’t the best of Fields’ shorts — for my money The Fatal Glass of Beer takes that award — but it doesn’t fall far short, and would serve as a suitable introduction to anyone unfamiliar with the great man’s sense of humour.
(Reviewed 3rd September 2005)