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The Criterion Collection presents
The Bank Dick (1940)

"I'm very fond of children. Girl children around eighteen, twenty."
- Egbert Sousé (W.C. Fields)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: October 09, 2000

Stars: W.C. Fields
Other Stars: Una Merkel, Franklin Pangborn, Shemp Howard
Director: Edward Cline

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (alcohol use)
Run Time: 01h:12m:04s
Release Date: August 22, 2000
UPC: 715515010627
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-A-B D

DVD Review

The Bank Dick stars W.C. Fields as one Egbert Sousé (final accent significant), an irritable and irritated family man who spends his spare time and money at the Black Pussy Café (and Snack Bar), telling tall tales to Joe the bartender (Shemp Howard) and anyone else who will listen. When he bluffs his way into a directing job on a one-reel short and accidentally foils a bank robbery, his fortunes begin to improve; a series of improbable coincidences follow, making him a hero and a happy, wealthy man, having earned the respect and love of his wife, his daughters and his mother-in-law.

Written by Fields under the improbable pseudonym of Mahatma Kane Jeeves, The Bank Dick is filled with Fieldsian situations and character names—bank inspector J. Pinkerton Snoopington (Franklin Pangborn), Sousé's son-in-law Og Oggilby (Grady Sutton), and a bank robber named Filthy McNasty (Al Hill). Most of the humor derives from Fields' classic persona, a bumbling, boastful drunkard who somehow manages to succeed on his own terms despite the annoyances imposed on him by his family, self-appointed moral guardians and any child who crosses his path. Fields isn't afraid to poke fun at himself, either, and he generously gives some of the film's funniest lines to his supporting characters. As noted in the disc's liner notes by Dennis Perrin, The Bank Dick is short on plot, playing as a series of situations with Sousé at the center that somehow meanders to an ending. But as one who thinks Fields did his best work in short films, I found the film's loose structure comfortable and refreshingly anarchic. Edward Cline directs with competent, straightforward composition and editing, wisely letting the camera roll while Fields works his 80-proof magic.

This was Fields' last feature film, and it appears that he was sober enough to be on the set when needed (avoiding the production problems that plagued some of his other films)—he died 6 years later at the reasonable age of 66. Fields in his prime was a vital, outrageous comedian, counteracting the wholesomeness of his Hollywood contemporaries with a joyful depiction of the boastful, overblown, selfish, darker side of the American character. I always watch Fields' work with the same mixture of emotions that colors my viewing of John Belushi—knowing how incredibly funny he could be, and wondering how much his addictions limited his life and career. But The Bank Dick is by no means painful to watch in and of itself—Egbert Sousé is a classic Fields creation, ignoring the idiots and overriding the pompous in his endless quest to be left alone with his vices.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Bank Dick is presented in its original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio, transferred from a 35mm fine-grain master according to Criterion's keepcase copy. The print has a few splices, small flecks and several brief bits of speckling damage, but detail is solid and the well-balanced transfer captures the film's black-and-white photography with no murkiness or excessive brightness. The Universal logo at the beginning of the film is crisp, and the digital transfer handles the film's subtle grain without blocking or softening.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Criterion's The Bank Dick DVD features Dolby Digital 1.0 monophonic audio. The film sounds very good considering its vintage, with remarkably few "pops" or other defects. The track's frequency range and audio fidelity are obviously limited by the 1940 technology, and unfortunately some of the best lines are muddied, making the disc's English subtitles handy for catching some of the verbal humor. Characterizations and sound effects come through effectively, but the track suffers a bit from age despite Criterion's fine digital transfer.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Color Bars
Extras Review: Criterion provides no on-disc supplements for The Bank Dick, aside from a set of color bars, 19 chapter stops and optional English subtitles. Dennis Perrin provides some thoughtful liner notes about the film on the keepcase insert, which also covers cast and crew credits, but this is a disappointing package, especially coming from the folks at Criterion, whose laserdiscs helped pioneer the very concept of supplements. One can only assume that no worthwhile archival materials were available.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

The Bank Dick is a good example of classic Fields, as the irascible, alcohol-fueled Egbert Sousé comes out on top by chance as much as by talent. Criterion's transfer of the 1940 film is technically sound, though the disc features no real supplements. Not Fields' most sharply funny film, but a fine way to spend 72 minutes. Recommended.


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