For, June 27, 2014

"Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch" (1934) is one of W.C. Fields' largely forgotten movies, perhaps because it's not really a Fields picture and it's not a comedy. And because Fields, despite getting second billing, doesn't even show up until some 55 minutes into the 80-minute film.

The story is about the title character (Pauline Lord), a harried, yet cheery, mother living on the wrong side of town with her five children and a loopy next-door neighbor, Miss Hazy (ZaSu Pitts). Mrs. Wiggs' husband is out of the picture.

Mrs. Wiggs about to be evicted over Thanksgiving when she is rescued by a pair of do-gooders, but along the way one of her children falls ill and dies in the hospital. This is all straight melodrama, saccharine and sappy, and just what audiences enjoyed back in the early days of cinema.


But then the film shifts gears a bit as Fields comes on the scene, playing Mr. Stubbins, a mail-order husband of sorts for Miss Hazy, and he insists on being wooed by food. Since she can't cook Mrs. Wiggs tries to help her out.

It's interesting to note the casting here: Pauline Lord was a Broadway star and this is her film debut. She made only one other film, another melodrama the next year, "A Feather in Her Hat," co-starring Basil Rathbone.

ZaSu Pitts, who was a tragedian in silent movies, most famously in Erich von Stroheim's "Greed" (1924), turned to comedy as "talkies" took over, her specialty being the talkative flibbertigibbets, which she played primarily in B-movies. But 1950s TV fans may remember her as Gale Storm's sidekick in "The Gale Storm Show" (aka "Oh! Susanna").

"Mrs. Wiggins of the Cabbage Patch" is based on a 1901 novel by Alice Hegan Rice, which became a Broadway play three years later, and it was adapted twice for movies during the silent era, in 1914 and 1919. There was also a fourth version in 1942 starring Fay Bainter.


      W.C. Fields, ZaSu Pitts, 'Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch'

But none of these versions had Fields, and his presence, and more important, his dialogue (which he probably wrote for himself), give the melodrama a much-needed boost in its final 20-25 minutes, and he and ZaSu Pitts are quite wonderful together.

Today, "Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch" is probably best appreciated by W.C. Fields fans, and then perhaps only completists who insist on seeing everything he did.