It's a Gift is a 1934 comedy film starring W. C. Fields, considered by film historians to be one of Fields' best and funniest films. It was Fields's sixteenth sound film, and his fifth in 1934 alone. It was directed by Norman McLeod, who had directed Fields in his cameo as Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland, 1933.
It concerns the trials and tribulations of a grocery store owner as he battles a shrewish wife, an incompetent assistant, and assorted annoying children, customers, and salesmen.
The film contains certain routines, reprised having been honed, that Fields had developed 1915-1925. Fields often tried to recapture on film original sketches that had been the basis of his stage success. Thus 'The Picnic', 'A Joy Ride' and most famously, 'The Back Porch', all become segments of Its a Gift.
Lesser known than some of Fields' later works such as The Bank Dick, the film is perhaps the best example of the recurring theme of the Everyman battling against his domestic entrapment. Historians and critics have often cited its numerous memorable comic moments. It is one of several Paramount Pictures in which Fields contended with child actor Baby LeRoy.
After he inherits some money, Harold Bissonette ("pronounced biss-on-ay") decides to give up the grocery business, move to California and run an orange grove. Despite his family's objections and the news that the land he bought is worthless, Bissonette packs up and drives out to California with his nagging wife Amelia (Kathleen Howard), self-involved daughter Mildred (Jean Rouverol) and bothersome son Norman (Tommy Bupp). The information about the orange grove is confirmed: his barren plot contains only a tumbledown shack and a tumbleweed. Disgusted, his wife and family are walking out on him.
However, just when Harold is about to lose all hope, his luck takes a dramatic turn: a neighbor informs him that a developer is desperate to acquire his land in order to build a grandstand for a race track. Finally standing up for himself, and to his nagging wife, Harold holds out for a large sum of money (including a commission for the friendly neighbor), as well as a demand that the developer buy him an orange grove like the one in the brochure he has been carrying throughout the film. The film ends with Harold sitting at an outdoor breakfast table squeezing orange juice into a glass, while his happy family takes off for a ride in their new car. The now-contented Harold pours a flask of booze into the small amount of orange juice in the glass.
The film is a chronicle of the " many titanic struggles between Harold Bissonnette and the universe. There will be battle of wills between father and daughter, between male and female, between man and a variety of uncontrollable objects."
The plot is almost secondary to the series of routines which make up the film. Over the course of the picture, Harold fails to prevent a blind customer (and Baby LeRoy) from turning his store into a disaster area; attempts to share a bathroom mirror with his self-centered, high-pitched gargling daughter; has a destructive picnic on private property; and in the film's lengthy centerpiece, is driven to sleep on the porch by his haranguing wife, and is kept awake all night by neighbors, salesmen, and assorted noises and calamities.
A well-known, and often somewhat misquoted Fields comment occurs at the climax of the film, as Harold is haggling with the developer, who angrily claims that Harold is drunk. Harold responds, "Yeah, and you're crazy; and I'll be sober tomorrow and ... you'll be crazy for the rest of your life!"
The windfall for Fields' character and the resultant happy ending of this film echo the climax of his earlier 1934 release, You're Telling Me!.
- W.C. Fields as Harold Bissonette
- Jean Rouverol as Mildred Bissonette
- Julian Madison as John Durston
- Kathleen Howard as Amelia Bissonette
- Tom Bupp as Norman Bissonette
- Tammany Young as Everett Ricks
- Baby LeRoy as Baby Dunk
- Morgan Wallace as Jasper Fitchmueller
- Charles Sellon as Mr. Muckle
- Josephine Whittell as Mrs. Dunk
- Diana Lewis as Miss Dunk
- T. Roy Barnes as Insurance Salesman
and Spencer Charters, Dell Henderson, Jerry Mandy, James Burke, Edith Kingdon and Billy Engle
Additional production credits
- Art direction by Hans Dreier and John B. Goodman
A contemporary review from 'Argus', The Literary Digest, 1935, declaredÂ : "It is clumsy, crude and quite amateurish in its appearance. It merely happens that a great comedian appears in it and has a free hand in his brilliant clowning, with the result that defects become unimportant, and the film emerges as a comedy delight."
American Film Institute recognition
- 2000: AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs #58
The film currently has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 100%.
In 2010, this film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
- 1934 in film
- It's a Gift at the Internet Movie Database
- It's a Gift at AllMovie
- It's a Gift at the TCM Movie Database