The Bank Dick

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The Bank Dick
The Bank Dick (1940 poster - Style C).jpg
Theatrical release poster, Style C
Directed by
Screenplay by
CinematographyMilton R. Krasner
Edited byArthur Hilton
Music byCharles Previn
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • November 29, 1940 (1940-11-29) (US)
Running time
73–74 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States

The Bank Dick, released as The Bank Detective in the United Kingdom, is a 1940 American comedy film starring W.C. Fields. Set in Lompoc, California,[a] Fields plays Egbert Sousé who accidentally thwarts a bank robbery and ends up a bank security guard as a result. The character is a drunk who must repeatedly remind people in exasperation that his name is pronounced "Sousé—accent grave over the 'e'!", because people keep calling him "Souse", slang for drunkard. In addition to bank and family scenes, it features Fields pretending to be a film director and ends in a chaotic car chase. The Bank Dick is considered a classic of his work, incorporating his usual persona as a drunken henpecked husband with a shrewish wife, disapproving mother-in-law, and savage children.

The film was written by Fields, using the alias "Mahatma Kane Jeeves", derived from the Broadway drawing-room comedy cliche, "My hat, my cane, Jeeves!"[3], and directed by Edward F. Cline. The featured actors were Una Merkel, Richard Purcell, Shemp Howard (later one of The Three Stooges), Franklin Pangborn, Grady Sutton, Jessie Ralph, and Cora Witherspoon.

In 1992, The Bank Dick was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[4][5]


Hard-drinking family man Egbert Sousé (W.C. Fields) has strained relations with his wife (Cora Witherspoon) and mother-in-law (Jessie Ralph) over his drinking, smoking, and taking money out of the piggy bank of his younger daughter Elsie Mae (Evelyn Del Rio) and replacing it with IOUs. When he tries to hit his younger daughter with a concrete urn, he is interrupted by his older daughter Myrtle (Una Merkel) introducing him to her fiancé, Og Oggilby (Grady Sutton).

When A. Pismo Clam (Jack Norton), the director of a movie which is shooting in town, goes on a bender, producer Mackley Q. Greene (Dick Purcell) offers the job to Sousé. While on his lunch break, it appears that he has caught one of the two men who robbed the bank where his prospective son-in-law, Og, has a job as a teller. The grateful bank president Mr. Skinner (Pierre Watkin) gives Sousé a job as the bank's "special officer", a bank detective ("dick").

After being conned by swindler J. Frothingham Waterbury (Russell Hicks), Sousé convinces Og to steal $500 from the bank to invest in the questionable Beefsteak Mining Company. Og hopes to return the money to the bank four days later when he expects to receive his annual bonus, but bank examiner J. Pinkerton Snoopington (Franklin Pangborn) arrives to immediately audit the bank. Sousé invites him to the Black Pussy Cat Café, a saloon run by Joe Guelpe (Shemp Howard), and drugs him with knockout drops and has him examined by quack Dr. Stall (Harlan Briggs). Despite this, Snoopington is determined to do his duty and proceed with the audit. Og passes out when he sees the examiner in the bank, and Sousé tries to delay the audit further by depriving Snoopington of his glasses.

As Snoopington is about to discover the missing funds, the swindler shows up to buy back the stocks from Og at a discount, but Sousé learns that the mine has struck it rich, and he and Og are now wealthy and no longer have to worry about the audit. Just then, the escaped bank robber, Repulsive Brogan, returns to rob the bank a second time, and escapes with the bank's money and Og's mining company stock, taking Sousé hostage. The robber forces him to drive the getaway car, with the police, the bank director, Og, and the movie producer giving chase, during which parts of the getaway car keep falling off. Sousé once again receives the credit for catching the thief, and receives $5,000 for the capture of Brogan, $10,000 from the movie producer for his screen story as well as a contract to direct a film based on it.

Now that he is rich, Sousé lives in a mansion, his family is elegant and well-spoken and treats him with respect, but he still follows Joe Guelpe on his way to open the Black Pussy Cat Café.



Alternative titles for the film were "The Bank Detective" and "The Great Man".[1] With the success of his two previous films, You Can't Cheat an Honest Man and My Little Chickadee, Fields was able to get complete creative control for this project.[6] He wrote the script under the pseudonym "Mahatma Kane Jeeves". Principal photography began in early September 1940.[1]


Theatrical release poster, Style D

The Bank Dick received many favorable reviews. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote that "for anyone who simply likes to laugh at the reckless inanities of an inspired buffoon, we recommend The Bank Dick. It's great fun."[7] The reviewer for Variety wrote "It's a crazy-quilt pattern aiming for laughs, and achieves the purpose adequately. Several times, Fields reaches into satirical pantomime reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin's best effort in that line during Mutual and Essanay days."[8]

Harrison's Reports called it "A good program comedy. W.C. Fields is at his best and for that reason the picture should go over very well with his fans."[9] John Mosher of The New Yorker wrote that "there is often an incident or gesture reminiscent of the Mack Sennett comedies. At times, the movie even smacks of those old days so exactly that you almost believe it must be a revival of some classic. There's nothing antiquated about it, however, no stale, museum starchiness, and the scandalous Mr. Fields has to be forgiven his outrageous behavior, since he is so simply and honestly funny."[10] Film critic Leslie Halliwell deemed it "Imperfect, but probably the best Fields vehicle there is",[8] and W.C. Fields biographer Robert Lewis Taylor called it "One of the great classics of American comedy".[11]

However, Otis Ferguson, a reviewer for The New Republic wrote "When [Fields] is funny he is terrific...but the story is makeshift, the other characters are stock types, the only pace discernible is the distance between drinks or the rhythm of the fleeting seconds it takes Fields to size up trouble and duck the hell out."[8]

The film currently has a rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 21 reviews.[12] In a list submitted to Cinema magazine in 1963, noted director Stanley Kubrick named it his eighth favorite film.[13]


Informational notes

  1. ^ Residents of Lompoc were upset at the presentation of their town in the film, and by Fields' pronunciation of it as "Lom-pock" instead of the proper "Lom-poke".[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f The Bank Dick at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ Mankiewicz, Ben (January 2, 2018). Outro to the Turner Classic Movies presentation of The Bank Dick.
  3. ^ Curtis, James (2003). W.C. Fields: A Biography. New York: Knopf. p. 424. ISBN 978-0-375-40217-3.
  4. ^ Marx, Andy; Wharton, Dennis (December 3, 1992). "Diverse pix mix picked". Variety. Retrieved May 18, 2020.
  5. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. Retrieved May 18, 2020.
  6. ^ Mankiewicz, Ben (January 2, 2018). Inro to the Turner Classic Movies presentation of The Bank Dick.
  7. ^ Crowther, Bosley (December 13, 1940). "W. C. Fields, the Great, Hits His Stride Again in 'The Bank Dick,' at the Palace". The New York Times. Retrieved November 26, 2015.
  8. ^ a b c Miller, Frank. "The Critics' Corner: The Bank Dick". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved November 26, 2015.
  9. ^ "'The Bank Dick' with W.C. Fields". Harrison's Reports: 198. December 14, 1940.
  10. ^ Mosher, John (December 14, 1940). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. p. 122.
  11. ^ Taylor, Robert Lewis (1949). W.C. Fields: His Follies and Fortunes. Doubleday & Company. p. 332.
  12. ^ "The Bank Dick (1940)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 30, 2019.
  13. ^ Wrigley, Nick. "Stanley Kubrick, cinephile". British Film Institute. Retrieved March 9, 2017.

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