You Can't Cheat an Honest Man
|You Can't Cheat an Honest Man|
Theatrical release poster
|Produced by||Lester Cowan|
|Screenplay by||Everett Freeman
George Marion, Jr.
|Story by||Charles Bogle|
|Starring||W. C. Fields
|Cinematography||Milton R. Krasner|
|Edited by||Otto Ludwig|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Running time||79 mins.|
Fields plays "Larsen E. Whipsnade", the owner of a shady carnival that is constantly on the run from the law. The whimsical title comes from a line spoken by Fields about ten minutes into the film. Whipsnade says that his grandfather Litvak's last words, spoken "just before they sprung the trap", were: "You can't cheat an honest man; never give a sucker an even break, or smarten up a chump." The line expanded on his character's comment to his daughter in the musical Poppy (1923), "Let me give you just one bit of fatherly advice: Never give a sucker an even break." (This, of course, was also the title of a subsequent Fields film, made in 1941.) The character name is obviously a play on "larceny", a point which Fields reinforces at one point when someone calls him "Larceny Whipsnake".
The film features Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, capitalizing on the popularity of their ongoing radio "feud" with Fields.
Per historian William K. Everson, the film has three directors. George Marshall, the credited director, did not get along with Fields, so he worked mostly with the other cast members, while Eddie Cline was brought in to work with Fields, who had worked previously with Cline and liked him. (Cline in fact went on to direct Fields' next three films.) B. Reeves Eason was the second-unit director, helming the chase scenes and other action-oriented material.
Whipsnade (Fields) is struggling to keep a step ahead of foreclosure, and clearly not paying his performers, including Bergen and McCarthy, who try to coax money out of him, or in McCarthy's case, steal some outright. Whipsnade's co-ed daughter pays a visit and falls in love with Bergen, but after she sees the financial mess that her father is in, she decides to marry a tiresome young millionaire. Whipsnade initially approves of the marriage, and just to be sure that the penniless Bergen doesn't win out (and make McCarthy an in-law), he sets the pair adrift in a hot-air balloon. However, Whipsnade creates a scene at the engagement party, and father and daughter escape together in a chariot, with Bergen and McCarthy in pursuit.
Fields had a running "feud" with Charlie McCarthy, and the movie contains a number of exchanges between them.
- W. C. Fields as Larsen E. Whipsnade
- Edgar Bergen as Himself
- Charlie McCarthy as Himself
- Mortimer Snerd as Himself
- Constance Moore as Vicky Whipsnade
- Mary Forbes as Mrs. Bel-Goodie
- Thurston Hall as Mr. Bel-Goodie
- Princess Baba as Herself
- John Arledge as Phineas Whipsnade
- Charles Coleman as Butler
- Edward Brophy as Corbett
- Arthur Hohl as Burr
- Blacaman as Himself
- Eddie Anderson as Rochester
- Grady Sutton as Chester
- Ferris Taylor as Deputy Sheriff
- James Bush as Roger Bel-Goodie
- Ivan Lebedeff as Ronnie
In popular culture
- Fields' character in this film would inspire the authors of the comic strip The Wizard of Id to create a shady lawyer character, a Fields caricature named "Larsen E. Pettifogger".
- A scene from the film is featured in the opening to Dummy (2002).
- Deschner, Donald (1966). The Films of W.C. Fields. New York: Cadillac Publishing by arrangement with The Citadel Press. p. 134. Introduction by Arthur Knight
- You Can't Cheat an Honest Man at the Internet Movie Database
- You Can't Cheat an Honest Man at the TCM Movie Database
- You Can't Cheat an Honest Man at AllMovie