Sunday, September 6, 2015

'The Dentist' is a very funny pre-code W.C. Fields short

By Doug Gibson

I had the opportunity to watch, again, this pretty fun 1932 Sennett comedy short, "The Dentist," starring W. C. Fields as a gruff, eccentric dentist and his travails with his daughter, who loves the ice man, his golf game, as well as some golf buddies and life in the dentist's office interacting with his pretty nurse and a few eccentric patients.

As mentioned, Fields is great. Only Fields can wave away concern about patient's pain with lines such as, "Oh, to hell with her," or "Have you ever had this tooth pulled before?" This is a film made just before the dreaded Hayes Code restricted Hollywood fare to a G rated-type fare. "The Dentist" is PG fare, with Field's mild growling, suggestive sarcasm, and in one particular one very sexually suggestive scene where dentist Fields burrows himself deep between a lady patient's very wide, very bare legs in order to force a tooth extraction. (A portion of the scene is shown above). The lady patient is played by willowly, Elise Cavanna, and she sort of looks like a sexier version of Carol Burnett. Although Fields' character has no romantic intentions, the scene is definitely played as a sexual satire. Cavanna's groans of pain contain more than a hint of passion, and after the tooth is extracted, she lies back in the chair, limbs splayed, with a countenance that hints of "afterglow."

I have recently learned that the scene between Fields and Cavanna was indeed a sexual spoof. It was a based on a popular stag film of the 1920s, called, "The Slow Fire Dentist." In the film, a dentist and a lady patient take things a good deal further than Fields and Cavanna. It's an interesting bit of film history and, as mentioned, it's a good bet "The Dentist" would never have been allowed to be screened had it been made a couple of years later.

Rumor has it that there's an even spicier version of "The Dentist" out there but I suspect the Turner Classic Movies print, which is shown at least once a year, is complete. The 20-minute film was directed by Leslie Pearce. If one wants to see Fields at his best in a feature film, I suggest 1934's "It's a Gift."

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