You Can't Cheat an Honest Man
|You Can't Cheat an Honest Man|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||George Marshall|
Edward F. Cline
|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|
You Can't Cheat an Honest Man is a 1939 American comedy film directed by George Marshall and Edward F. Cline and starring W. C. Fields. Fields also wrote the story on which the film is based under the name Charles Bogle.
Whipsnade is struggling to keep a step ahead of foreclosure, and clearly not paying his performers, including Bergen and McCarthy (Bergen's ventriloquist's dummy/alter-ego) 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.
- W. C. Fields as Larsen E. Whipsnade
- Edgar Bergen as Himself and the characters Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd
- Constance Moore as Vicky Whipsnade
- John Arledge as Phineas Whipsnade
- Eddie Anderson as Rochester
- James Bush as Roger Bel-Goodie
- Mary Forbes as Mrs. Bel-Goodie
- Thurston Hall as Mr. Bel-Goodie
- Grady Sutton as Chester
- Princess Baba as Herself
- Charles Coleman as Butler
- Edward Brophy as Corbett
- Arthur Hohl as Burr
- Blacaman as Himself
- Ferris Taylor as Deputy Sheriff
- Ivan Lebedeff as Ronnie
- Evelyn Del Rio as crying little girl (uncredited)
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 expands 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 is 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".
According to 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.
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).