04 May 2011

It's the Old Army Game

As you dear readers know, Louise Brooks makes many appearances on this blog but opportunities to see her on the big screen are far and few between. So last night I made sure to be in line at Film Forum for a screening of one of her films— It’s the Old Army Game (1926).

The screening was part of a two-week long W.C. Fields series and included live piano accompaniment by Steve Sterner and an introduction by Fields’ granddaughter, Dr. Harriet Fields.

In the film, Fields plays a Florida drugstore owner with the wonderful name of Elmer Prettywillie. His business gets a boost when he rents space to George Parker, a questionable seller of New York real estate who falls in love with Prettywillie’s assistant, Mildred, played by Louise. When it appears that the locals may have been had by Parker, Prettywillie sets out to recoup their investments and everything works out in the end.

Prettywillie is the type of character Fields would often play—the harried man of the house who is constantly bothered by his family and neighbours, thwarted in his efforts to get some peace and quiet. It isn't one of Fields' best films but there are still some wonderful moments. In one scene, Prettywillie attempts to put out a small fire in a cigar box at his drugstore with a variety of useless vessels from an eyeglass to a teaspoon. In another, he attempts to quiet a baby in a very unconventional way. In fact some of the best scenes involve Fields and children, including one that is both funny and shocking (in short, he tries to throw a baby off a balcony).

Louise Brooks and W.C. Fields share their mutual admiration for each other.

And then there is Louise. If you’ve only ever seen her in Pandora’s Box or Diary of a Lost Girl, you’ll find her a delight here simply for the fact that she smiles so much. In an early scene, she sits at a soda counter, surrounded by firemen, eating an ice cream float and laughing. The beaming grin she gives Fields reveals that she’s fully aware of the attention she’s getting from the men and that she's amused by it all. In fact, Louise seems to be having a wonderful time throughout the film. Perhaps it’s because the film was directed by her future husband Eddie Sutherland or because of the mutual fondness she and Fields had for each other. Whatever it was, it worked.

Just watch this scene below where Louise leads her on-screen love interest on a little chase. From the expression on her face when she first spots him to the way she sashays down the street, she's flirty and fun and oh so modern. In essence, she’s pure Louise.

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