- My Little Chickadee (1940) movie overview: Seen (sort of) together for the first and last time, Mae West and W.C. Fields follow their own self-focused routines in Edward F. Cline’s odd and at times hilarious comedy Western.
My Little Chickadee movie overview: Mae West & W.C. Fields – in their only screen pairing – are the reason to watch 1940 Western comedy
Mae West and W.C. Fields. The teaming of these two comedy titans in Universal’s 1940 comedy Western My Little Chickadee must not have been very easy, as both of them had giant egos and were not used to sharing the spotlight with anyone else.
And although they are both credited with writing the screenplay, it’s evident that they each wrote their own scenes. In fact, West and Fields are rarely seen together in the same frame. There’s a lot of cross-cutting going on in My Little Chickadee.
Yet credit must go to veteran director Edward F. Cline (Three Ages, Million Dollar Legs) who seems to have managed to reign in his stars to prevent too much scene-stealing.
Flower Belle doesn’t live here anymore
The first half of My Little Chickadee is the funniest: Flower Belle Lee (Mae West) gets railroaded out of town after she is seen having a rendezvous with “The Masked Bandit.”
The town’s old biddybody (played by the delightful Margaret Hamilton) leads the band against Flower Belle and personally escorts her into exile until she is “respectable and married.”
On the train, the oversexed fallen woman meets card-cheating scoundrel Cuthbert J. Twillie (W.C. Fields). Their first scene together is hilarious: Flower Belle thinks Twillie has money, so she agrees to marry him. The service is performed by a phony preacher (Donald Meek), and each time the vows are exchanged the train’s whistle blows and drowns out the response.
Dehumanized Native Americans
Now I must make one negative point about My Little Chickadee.
I don’t have a stick up my butt about these things, but I did cringe every time the filmmakers treated Native Americans with disdain. It’s especially hard for me to watch the scene of West herself slaughtering them during a raid on the train.
With a little rewriting later on, that whole sequence could have been safely removed without any harm to the story.
Family-friendly goat sex humor
Apart from that, Mae West and W.C. Fields make My Little Chickadee an enjoyable experience even if at times I could see that the Production Code had interfered with the humorous situations. That said, I wonder how the sequence showing Fields in bed with a goat – which he thinks is his wife – got by the censors.
In regard to what actually took place during filming, there are plenty of rumors about the uneasy West-Fields alliance. For one, West is supposed to have had little patience for Fields’ alcohol-induced shenanigans; if true, you could never tell by looking at them playing off of each other.
Sure, My Little Chickadee falls flat here and there, but where else can you witness these two classic comedians coming together?
My Little Chickadee (1940)
Director: Edward F. Cline.
Screenplay: Mae West & W.C. Fields.
Cast: Mae West. W.C. Fields. Joseph Calleia. Dick Foran. Ruth Donnelly. Margaret Hamilton. Donald Meek. Fuzzy Knight. Willard Robertson. Jackie Searl. Anne Nagel.
“My Little Chickadee (1940): 2 Comedy Icons (Somewhat) Together” review text © Danny Fortune; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
“My Little Chickadee Movie (1940) Overview” endnotes
Mae West and W.C. Fields My Little Chickadee movie image: Universal Pictures.
“My Little Chickadee (1940): 2 Comedy Icons (Somewhat) Together” last updated in September 2021.