Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935) Review

Man On The Flying Trapeze (1935) Director: Clyde Bruckman


Starring W.C. Fields, Man on the Flying Trapeze is a hilarious film. It is actually a loose remake of a film called Running Wild originally made in 1927, also starring W.C. Fields.

It tells the story of Ambrose Wolfinger a “memory expert” for a woolen manufacturer – a memory expert is a file-keeper for major clients. He is a henpecked husband, gentle and misunderstood. He lives with his wife, her mother (stridently against alcohol) and lazy brother. Additionally, he has a daughter who defends him at every turn. At any rate, the film is filled with classic scenes – it opens with a scene of two men robbing his house, and then discovering his home-brewed “applejack” alcohol, begin singing. He calls the police, and the officer arrives and starts singing and drinking with them, followed shortly by Wolfinger. He talks about his desire to see the wrestling match the next day, but he is thrown in jail for having “applejack” without a proper license. He is bailed out by his wife after sharing a cell with an odd killer. The next day at work he tells a lie to his boss, that his mother-in-law died and he wishes to leave work early for her funeral, which his boss approves. He claims she died as a result of alcohol. However, Wolfinger plans to go to the wrestling match, though his brother-in-law has stolen his front-row seats. He leaves to go to the wrestling match while his office sends a flurry of flowers to his house in memoriam. In a hilarious scene, he is pulled over by a policeman, and is then written up by another policeman, and then another, and then another. He hits several cars and loses a tire chasing it down the train tracks. Eventually he makes his way to the wrestling match but cannot go in, and one of the wrestler is sent flying into Wolfinger. He is found lying in a gutter, and his family thinks he got drunk and passed out in a gutter. His wife plans to leave him, though she misses him. At the end of the film, his daughter calls and negotiates a raise for her father and returns to work and buys a car. He makes amends with his family, driving them in his new car, but leaves his mother and brother-in-law in the outdoor backseat as they get rained on.

Reportedly, Fields actually directed most of the film. He is rumored to have been highly similar to the lovable drunken, clumsy, and muttering characters he portrayed on screen. He was the original Homer Simpson. He began his career in vaudeville where he met his wife and they had a son together. He was estranged from his wife and son in life, mainly because he refused to give up show business, but he voluntarily made payments to her each month and they remained in communication. He was a voracious reader of the classics and had an impressive library, he was also a staunch atheist. A lifelong lover of alcohol, Fields died in 1946 at the age of 66.

This is quite possibly Fields’s best film, and is a great example of how much funnier and simple movies were in the 1930s. It remains a classic laugh-out-loud comedy.

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