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Directed by Norman McLeod

United States 1934 68 mins. In English

By 1934, W.C. Fields was at the top of his game, enormously popular in the US after a long string of beloved comedies skewering modern American life. It’s a Gift, his fifth film of 1934 alone (!), is one of his finest. Harold Bissonette inherits a massive sum of money after a distant relative dies—and rather than continue his somewhat humdrum existence as a small-town shopkeeper incessantly hounded by everyone, Harold and family load all their belongings into his jalopy and head west. Harold’s goal: to buy and cultivate an orange grove, and live happily ever after. Fields, as everyman underdog, is heartwarming and easy to root for in his quest for deliverance in the Southern California sun. “It’s a masterpiece, and Fields’ definitive study in the horrors of small town family life. There’s little sentiment (or plot) to provide any relief, either; the film’s string of set pieces (three of them taken from the 1925 Ziegfeld Follies) maintains a relentless pace and tone, making this easily the most devastating comedy of the ’30s.”—Time Out.