Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941)

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Never Give a Sucker an Even Break is a 1941 Universal Pictures comedy film starring W. C. Fields. Fields also wrote the original story, under the pseudonym "Otis Criblecoblis". Fields plays himself, searching for a chance to promote a surreal screenplay he has written, whose several framed sequences form the film's center.

The title is derived from lines from two earlier films. In Poppy (1936), he tells his daughter, "If we should ever separate, my little plum, I want to give you just one bit of fatherly advice: Never give a sucker an even break!" In You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (1939), he tells a customer that his grandfather's last words, "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."

This was Fields's last starring film. By then he was 61 years old, and alcohol and illness had taken their toll: he was much heavier than he had been six/seven years earlier when he had made eight films in the space of two years and was reasonably physically fit.

Fields hand-picked most of the supporting cast. He chose Universal's young singing star Gloria Jean to play his niece, and got two of his favorite comedians, Leon Errol and Franklin Pangborn, to play supporting roles. Margaret Dumont, familiar as the Marx Brothers' matronly foil, was cast as the haughty "Mrs. Hemogloben". The zany film played to mixed reviews in 1941 but is today considered one of Fields's classics.

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