'My Little Chickadee': Mae West & W.C. Fields Together But Apart

by Danny Fortune
Mae West, W.C. Fields in My Little Chickadee
My Little Chickadee with Mae West and W.C. Fields.

Mae West and W.C. Fields. The teaming of these two comedy titans in My Little Chickadee must not have been very easy, but director Edward F. Cline managed to reign them in without too much scene-stealing. Both actors 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 is evident that they each wrote their own scenes. In fact, they are rarely in the same frame together. There is a lot of cross-cutting going on.

The first half of the picture is the funniest: Flowerbelle (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 Flowerbelle and personally escorts her into exile until she is “respectable and married.”

On the train, Flowerbelle meets Cuthbert J. Twilly (Fields). The first scene featuring the oversexed fallen woman and the card-cheating scoundrel is hilarious. Flowerbelle thinks Twilly has money, so she agrees to marry him. But the service is performed by a phony preacher – and each time the vows are exchanged, the train's whistle blows and drowns out the response.

Now I must make one negative point about the movie. Although I don't usually have a stick up my butt about these things, I do cringe every time the My Little Chickadee filmmakers treat Native Americans with disdain. It is especially hard for me to watch the scene of the white passengers slaughtering them during a raid on the train. That whole sequence could have been safely deleted without any harm to the story.

Apart from that, Fields and West make My Little Chickadee an enjoyable experience even though at times I could see that the Production Code had interfered with the humorous situations. (That said, I wonder how the scene showing Fields in bed with a goat – which he thinks is his wife – got by the censors.) There are plenty of rumors about the West-Fields uneasy alliance – apparently, West had little patience for Fields' alcohol-induced shenanigans – but 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 such two classic comedians coming together for the first and only time?

© Danny Fortune

My Little Chickadee (1940). Dir.: Edward F. Cline. Scr.: Mae West, W.C. Fields. Cast: Mae West, W.C. Fields, Joseph Calleia, Dick Foran, Ruth Donnelly, Margaret Hamilton, Donald Meek, Jackie Searl

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