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Elmer Prettywillie (W.C. Fields) is a drugist in a small town who lives
with his nagging sister and her annoying kid, and who's hopelessly in love
with his young employee Mildred (Louise Brooks), who knows about his
feelings but doesn't respong accordingly. Eventually, she falls hopelessly
in love with a travelling realty salesman, Parker (William Gaxton), and
persuades Elmer to let him set up shop in his drug store. Elmer is not too
pleased about the competition, but he also could never deny Mildred
anything - and soon enough, the drug store has healthy business from all
the landbuyers, and Elmer also gets a fair share of the income from the
land deals. Then though it is found out that the company Parker is working
for is a fraudulent operation, and he even gets arrested. Elmer now sees
himself facing the demands of those who have been duped by the company,
and he goes to New York to settle things with the company, only to find
out it has already been closed down, but losing his car in the process.
While Elmer was away though, Parker has been released from prison, has
made all the money his clients have lost and a tidy profit as well,
returned the money to them, and now as they all are rich and celebrate
Elmer as a hero.
My main point of critique concerning this film
is an unfair one I readily admit - but let's face it, this film should
have been a sound feature, a choice that was simply not available in 1926
though. Point is, there are many comedy setpieces in this film - W.C.
Fields trying to put out a fire in a cigar box, having a picnic with his
family, wrecking his car in the New York streets, but most prominently at
all trying to sleep on his porch with the neighbourhood noises constantly
waking him up - that almost demand sound. And let's face it, so does W.C.
Fields as an actor as such, in silent films he always seems a bit empty
while in talking pictures, his voice, his oneliners, his unique speech
patterns give his characters depth. Of course, the fact that It's the Old Army Game
was later remade (with sound) as It's a
Gift, one of Fields' funniest films, proves me right, doesn't it?
That said, It's the Old Army Game
is still an ok silent comedy. Sure, it's no masterpiece and its narrative
structure is terribly episodic, but the setpieces in themselves are rather
amusing - and that alone is much better than nothing, isn't it?