Pool Sharks (1915)
This is the first film starring W.C. Fields, who was mostly a stage comedian at the time, and who returned to film in the early sound period to make films which remain critically celebrated to this day for their originality and style.
The movie sets up Fields against a rival (Larry Westford) for the interests of a young lady (Marian West). The action begins with the lady in sewing a hammock, and the two men coming over to sit with her. One of them is stuck by a needle, the other gets cotton balls all over his pants. Once these items are removed, they sit down at once and the hammock collapses. They fall to fighting with one another, with Fields using his cane against his opponent. The next scene takes place at a garden party, and Westford grabs the only available chair next to the woman. Fields unceremoniously dumps a child out of his chair in order to sit on her other side. The kid gets his pea-shooter for revenge, managing to hit Fields as he is serving coffee, causing him to spill it on the girl. The two rivals now fall to fighting, which culminates in eye-poking. One of the other guests suggests that they resolve their difficulties with a “friendly” game of pool.
The next scene is at the pool hall. After “accidentally” hitting one another with pool cues a few times, the men settle down to break shots. Each of them performs ridiculous feats like knocking all the balls into the holes and having them reassemble in the middle as racked (this is accomplished through animation). After Fields wins by managing to get all the balls to fly back on the shelves in sequence with a single shot, another fight breaks out, this time with pool balls as missiles. As the fight escalates, Westford is knocked out a window into a barrel of water, and Fields grabs a bottle of booze and makes a getaway. He encounters Westford in the barrel and pulls him out. Westford spits water in his face, and Fields knocks him back in.
It’s all pretty crude stuff, even by the standards of slapstick. The eye-poking scene reminded me of the “Three Stooges,” and didn’t strike me as funny at all (I’ve always had a bit of sensitivity about my eyes, and can’t even wear contact lenses, so that may be a personal issue). I couldn’t help “hearing” Fields’ famous drawl as I watched it, and in places he did remind me of his later talkie persona, especially when he was flirting with the girl or disdainfully dumping the child. In close-ups he reminded me of a young Steve Martin, although they put a profoundly ugly mustache on him that seems to spring from his nostrils (ugh!). I suppose audiences of the day were impressed by the animated parts, but they aren’t up to the standard set by Winsor McCay or Ladislaw Starevich, and won’t do much for a modern audience. Personally, I prefer Fields’ talkie work, but this may interest slapstick completists or hardcore Fields fans.
Director: Edwin Middleton
Cast: W.C. Fields, Larry Westford, Marian West
Run Time: 15 Min