The Fatal Glass of Beer

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Director: Clyde Bruckman
Writers: W. C. Fields; Charley Chase

  • W. C. Fields — Mr. Snavely
  • Rosemary Theby — Mrs. Snavely
  • George Chandler — Chester Snavely, their son
  • Richard Cramer — Canadian Mounted Policeman

Mack Sennett Comedies: 1933
black & white; 18 minutes

August 2008


The Fatal Glass of Beer is a two-reel comedy, based on a temperance monologue by Charley Chase, "The Fatal Glass of Beer"; and on a live-stage satire on cliched melodrama called "The Stolen Bonds", that W. C. Fields wrote and performed in for Earl Carroll's Vanities in 1928.

In a prelude, in his gold prospector's cabin in the cold Far Northwest, Fields sings lugubriously to a Canadian Mountie of the evil effects of beer on a young man:

Once upon the sidewalk,
He met a Salvation Army girl,
And, wickedly, he broke her tambourine.
All she said was "Heaven bless you"
And placed a mark upon his brow,
With a kick she learned
Before she had been saved ...

Shifting through the pseudo-mythical wintry landscape to his home cabin, we meet Fields' wife, and witness the return of their long-absent son. This main section is based on "The Stolen Bonds"; it is a series of frozen cliches daggered like icicles into other frozen cliches of stage and screen. The characters play the melodrama to the deadpanned hilt. A memorable recurring gag has Fields opening his cabin door to the Yukon winter, declaiming "It ain't a fit night out for man nor beast!", and promptly each time getting hit in the face with a bucketful of obviously fake snow.

James Curtis, in his thorough biography W. C. Fields, says that The Fatal Glass of Beer was both a critical and audience failure upon release, and "seventy years later it remains an acquired taste."

Sometimes distance gives a more relaxed perspective to both critics and audiences. I cannot tell how I may have reacted in 1933, but in recent years I've watched The Fatal Glass of Beer multiple times, and find it funny each time.


© 2008 Robert Wilfred Franson

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