The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933)

I think I discovered the Internet Archive around 2006, about ten years after it was founded. Though there are many and varied media represented in the archive, I was always drawn to the Moving Images collections. In spite of the sometimes chaotic structure, the Internet Archive has provided me with a great many discoveries which I would never have made without it.

The comedian W. C. Fields is one of the many great actors that I would have missed if it were not for the Internet Archive. Several of his films are available for download, and perhaps the best of the lot is The Fatal Glass of Beer. I think it must have been one of the first ten-or-so films I downloaded from the Internet Archive, and probably more on a spur of the moment than anything else.

W. C. Fields in The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933)

Fields here plays the father of a prodigal son, Chester, who returns home after serving time. Chester regrets his bad ways and asks his parents’ forgiveness. The film centers around this story, but in spite of its short length, it manages to branch out into several more or less coherent subplots as well.

The film is perhaps best remembered for the recurring, and pretty funny, gag where Fields opens the door, proclaiming “It ain’t a fit night out for man nor beast.” whereupon he invariably gets a bucketful of fake snow in his face. But there are many other amusing moments as well, and the film deserves to be seen for its overall high level of humour.

The title, The Fatal Glass of Beer, refers to the glass that turned Chester into bad habits and made him a criminal. Unfortunately, it could also have referred to W. C. Fields himself, who was in the later parts of his career a heavy drinker. This got him into trouble, both with his employers and with his family.

This film is best enjoyed when put in a historical context. It is a parody of stage and movie melodramas with the same Yukon setting (Chaplin’s The Gold Rush comes to mind, although it weas probably not one of the major influences). This explains many plot events, as well as Fields’ exaggerated melodramatic acting. Oh, and the ending is not bad, either.

W. C. Fields and Rosemary Theby in The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933)

The Fatal Glass of Beer
Download link
Year: 1933
Running time: 19 min
Director: Clyde Bruckman
Stars: W. C. Fields
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (566 M)

The Gold Rush (1925)

A friend of mine remarked the other day that I practically only write about films that she has never heard of before. I think it was meant in a positive way, but I suppose all the obscure titles may turn others off.

The main purpose of this blog is to make people aware of the good stuff available at the Internet Archive, and also to make such good stuff easier to find. Since the classics available from the IA are frequently listed on other blogs, I guess I have subconsciously avoided them in favour of less known (yet often equally interesting) alternatives. Ah, but I ramble. Let me see if I can somehow get back on track.

Yesterday, it was exactly 100 years ago that Charlie Chaplin debuted in his first film role, Making a Living. It is not a bad film for a first, but Chaplin’s greatest achievements still lay some years into the future.

The Gold Rush, for instance.

Chilkoot Pass in Chaplin's The Gold Rush (1925)

An absolutely marvellous film from the heyday of the silent cinema, The Gold Rush often appears on lists of the best films ever made. By the time of its production, Chaplin had developed his sense of timing to near perfection. He had also learned the difficult task of good storytelling, although his method was unusual in that there was no real script, only a skeletal storyline from which each scene was improvised and gradually refined.

Much has been written about the production of this film, and here I will only touch briefly upon two of my favourite scenes. The first is just at the beginning, when hundreds of extras make their laborious ways up the Chilkoot pass. One of the most magnificent scenes in the history of silent cinema. The other is when Chaplin and his companion, both near starvation, share one of Chaplin’s shoes for their dinner. Apparently, the shoe used for filming was made of liquorice and caused Chaplin a bad case of diarrhoea.

As is the case with many famous silents, The Gold Rush has been released with a large number of different scores, including one that Chaplin composed for the rerelease of the film in the 1940s. I remember when I first watched the film myself (probably in the mid eighties), and the score was just random classical music. I found it so disturbing I had to turn it off.

The experience will be similar with the version I mainly link to from this post, since it contains no score at all. The image quality, however, is very good. On the other hand, there is another version with inferior image quality (though still acceptable) and Portuguese subtitles, but an excellent piano score. You will have to decide which one you prefer.

This film is best enjoyed as an introduction to silent film. If you have never seen a silent before, this is the perfect place to start.

Charlie Chaplin and Mack Swain in The Gold Rush (1925)

The Gold Rush
Download link
Year: 1925
Running time: 1 h 27 min
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Stars: Charlie Chaplin, Mack Swain, Georgia Hale
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Soundtrack: None (in this version)
Best file format: MPEG4 (708 M)