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You Can't Cheat an Honest Man

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

You Can't Cheat an Honest Man
You Can't Cheat an Honest Man.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGeorge Marshall
Edward F. Cline
Screenplay byEverett Freeman
Richard Mack
George Marion, Jr.
Story byCharles Bogle
Produced byLester Cowan
StarringW. C. Fields
Edgar Bergen
Charlie McCarthy
CinematographyMilton R. Krasner
Edited byOtto Ludwig
Music byFrank Skinner
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • February 18, 1939 (1939-02-18) (United States)
Running time
79 mins.
CountryUnited States

You Can't Cheat an Honest Man is a 1939 American comedy film directed by George Marshall and Edward F. Cline and starring W. C. Fields. Fields also wrote the story on which the film is based under the name Charles Bogle.


Circus proprietor Larsen E. Whipsnade is struggling to keep a step ahead of foreclosure, and clearly not paying his performers, including Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy (Bergen's ventriloquist's dummy/alter-ego, whom Whipsnade hates) Whipsnade's co-ed daughter pays a visit and falls in love with Bergen, but after she sees the financial mess that her father is in, she decides to marry Roger, a tiresome young millionaire. Whipsnade initially approves of the marriage, and just to be sure that the penniless Bergen doesn't win out (and make McCarthy an in-law), he sets the pair adrift in a hot-air balloon. However, Whipsnade creates a scene at the engagement party, and father and daughter escape together in a chariot, with Bergen and McCarthy in pursuit.


Production background

The film's whimsical title comes from a line spoken by Fields about ten minutes into the film. Whipsnade says that his grandfather Litvak's last words, spoken "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." The line expands on his character's comment to his daughter in the musical Poppy (1923): "Let me give you just one bit of fatherly advice: Never give a sucker an even break." (This is the title of a subsequent Fields film, made in 1941.) The character name is obviously a play on "larceny", a point which Fields reinforces at one point when someone calls him "Larceny Whipsnake".

The film features Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, capitalizing on the popularity of their ongoing radio "feud" with Fields.

According to historian William K. Everson, the film has three directors. George Marshall, the credited director, did not get along with Fields, so he worked mostly with the other cast members, while Eddie Cline was brought in to work with Fields, who had worked previously with Cline and liked him. (Cline in fact went on to direct Fields' next three films.) B. Reeves Eason was the second-unit director, helming the chase scenes and other action-oriented material.

In popular culture

  • Fields' character in this film would inspire the authors of the comic strip The Wizard of Id to create a shady lawyer character, a Fields caricature named "Larsen E. Pettifogger".
  • A scene from the film is featured in the opening to Dummy (2002).


  1. ^ Deschner, Donald (1966). The Films of W.C. Fields. New York: Cadillac Publishing by arrangement with The Citadel Press. p. 134. Introduction by Arthur Knight

External links

This page was last edited on 24 June 2022, at 16:29
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