Friday, June 4, 2021


It had been a while since I watched anything off of my W.C. Fields box set, The Big Broadcast of 1938 aside (that being on my Bob Hope box set), so recently I put one of the DVDs in the player and watched Poppy.

Fields, surprisingly, does not play Poppy, since it sounds like it could be a nickname for a father figure. Instead, he's Professor Eustace McGarnagle, one of those traveling medicine men in the late 19th century like Charles Winninger in the recently mentioned Father Is a Bachelor. McGarnagle travels from town to town with his adopted daugher Poppy (Rochelle Hudson).

In the latest town they're in, Poppy falls in love with Billy Farnsworth (Richard Cromwell), son of the town's mayor (Granville Bates). This town once had a rich family, the Putnams, but the last known heir has died so people are trying to get their hands on the Putnam money. One of those is a countess (Catherine Doucet). The Countess' lawyer, Eddie Whiffen (Lynne Overman) convinces McGarnagle that Poppy looks enough like Putnam that she could possibly pass for Putnam's daughter. So why not come up with a forged marriage license claiming McGarnagle married Putnam?

For whatever reason, McGarnagle actually agrees with this, which I suppose is in part to try to give some happiness to Poppy, since the Farnsworths are concerned about Poppy not having any money and being the daughter of a medicine-show man, something which is clearly not an honorably profession. But certainly the ruse is going to be found out!

I found Poppy to be somewhat atypical of the Fields movies I've seen, in that it's not nearly as much about the zany comedy as the other of his movies. Fields does get to do some of his routines, but the dramatic/romance portion of the plot gets a lot of play here. It turns out there are two reasons for this. The first is that Poppy is based on a play in which Field had starred a dozen years earlier before he became a movie star, and then a silent film with Fields reprising his stage role. So he was already identified with the material and doing a talking film update of it is understandable. Fields was also apparently sick during filming which is why his comedy seems much more muted.

As for the romance half of it, it's the sort of thing that 1930s audiences probably would have found quite appealing, but audiences of today would probably find old-fashioned, and not just because it's set in the late 1800s. Hudson and Cromwell do an adequate job, but the plot doesn't feel like anything special. Not a bad movie, mind you, but more memorable for it feeling different from the rest of Fields' oeuvre.

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