November 12, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

With his tipped top hat, carelessly knotted cravat, and bulbous nose, William Claude Dukenfield cut a silhouette every bit as recognizable as Charlie Chaplin’s, although his belligerent, scheming drunks never threatened the Little Tramp’s popularity. Like Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s Larry David, undoubtedly a Fields disciple, Fields was funniest when hopelessly outmatched. Besieged by scornful wives, loudmouthed neighbors, and demonic children, he’s at his best in It’s a Gift and especially the Fields-scripted The Bank Dick, whose delirious nastiness still draws blood. The tag team of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy barely keeps pace In You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man, and a defanged Mae West offers little competition in My Little Chickadee. Fields literally crash-lands into International House, a not-so-star-studded hodgepodge, though his valiant destruction comes too late to stop Rudy Vallee serenading a megaphone. Not the Ideal Fields quintet — no collection is complete without Criterion’s 6 Short Films — but even in bad movies, Fields always has a beery bon mot on tap.

EXTRAS The attached A&E Biography promises to go ”behind the laughter,” but interviewing Night Court‘s Harry Anderson might be reaching a bit too far back.

Gift: A-
Bank Dick: A
Honest Man: B
Chickadee: B
International: C

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