AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
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It's a Gift
Alternate Title: Back Porch
Director: Norman McLeod (Dir)
Release Date:   30 Nov 1934
Production Date:   4 Sep--12 Oct 1934
Duration (in mins):   67-68 or 70 or 73
Duration (in reels):   7
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Cast:   W. C. Fields (Harold Bissonette)  
    Kathleen Howard (Amelia Bissonette)  
    Jean Rouverol (Mildred Bissonette)  
    Julian Madison (John Durston)  
    Tom Bupp (Norman Bissonette)  
    Baby Le Roy (Baby Dunk)  
    Tammany Young (Everett Ricks)  
    Morgan Wallace (James Fitchmueller)  
    Charles Sellon (Mr. Muckle)  
    Josephine Whittell (Mrs. Dunk)  
    T. Roy Barnes (Insurance salesman)  
    Diana Lewis (Miss Dunk)  
    Spencer Charters (Gate guard)  
    Guy Usher (Harry Payne Bosterly)  
    Del Henderson (Mr. Clarence Abernathy)  
    Jerry Mandy (Vegetable man)  
    James Burke (Ice man)  
    Billy Engle (Scissors grinder)  
    William Tooker (Old man)  
    Edith Kingdon (Old woman)  
    Patsy O'Byrne (Mrs. Frobisher)  
    Jane Withers (Hopscotch girl)  
    Jack Mulhall (Butler)  
    Chill Wills and the Avalon Boys (Campfire singers)  

Summary: In New Jersey, inept storekeeper Harold Bissonette is constantly badgered by his domineering wife Amelia, his obnoxious son Norman and his lovestruck daughter Mildred. When his Uncle Bean dies, Harold uses his $5,000 inheritance to buy an orange ranch in California through Mildred's boyfriend, John Durston, but does not tell Amelia. In the meantime, life's little details continually frustrate Harold. After several catastrophes at his store, variously involving a child, a blind man and molasses, he goes home to a wife who nags throughout the night. Harold tries to sleep on the balcony, where noisy neighbors, children and the milkman contrive to keep him awake. When John finds out that the ranch is no good for growing oranges, he tells Harold, who refuses to believe him. Harold packs up his family and they journey to California in a broken-down "flivver," running into a number of escapades en route. The property in California turns out to be a run-down shack surrounded by acres of dirt and weeds. Amelia furiously takes the children and begins walking off, leaving Harold behind with his faithful dog. Just then their neighbor, Clarence Abernathy, drives up to tell Harold that two racetrack owners are coming to buy Harold's property. The men offer him $25,000 for the land, but despite Amelia's harassment, Harold holds out until he gets $44,000 for Abernathy's commission and a successful orange ranch for himself. In the end, Harold leads a leisurely life as owner of Bissonette's Bluebird Oranges, gaining the peace he so needs while his wife and children attend social functions. 

Production Company: Paramount Productions, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Paramount Productions, Inc.  
Director: Norman McLeod (Dir)
Producer: Adolph Zukor (Pres)
  William Le Baron (Prod)
  Emanuel Cohen (Exec prod)
Writer: Jack Cunningham (Scr)
  Charles Bogle (Story)
  Eddie Welch (Contr to spec seq)
  John Sinclair (Contr to spec seq)
  Lou Breslow (Contr to spec seq)
  Harry Ruskin (Contr to spec seq)
  Garnett Weston (Contr to trmt)
  Claude Binyon (Contr to trmt)
  Paul Gerard Smith (Contr to trmt)
  Howard J. Green (Contr to trmt)
Photography: Henry Sharp (Photog)
Art Direction: Hans Dreier (Art dir)
  John B. Goodman (Art dir)
Sound: Earl S. Hayman (Sd)
Country: United States
Language: English

Music:
Songs:
Source Text: Based on the play The Comic Supplement (of American Life) by J. P. McEvoy (Washington, D.C., 19 Jan 1925).
Authors: J. P. McEvoy

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Paramount Productions, Inc. 30/11/1934 dd/mm/yyyy LP5135 Yes

PCA NO: 343
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Noiseless Recording

 
Genre: Comedy
 
Subjects (Major): California
  Family life
  Grocery stores
  Henpecked husbands
  Inheritance
  Land sales
 
Subjects (Minor): Apartments
  Automobiles
  Blindness
  Children
  Delivery men
  Dogs
  Drunkenness
  Fatherhood
  Milkmen
  Neighbors
  New Jersey
  Oranges
  Ranches

Note: The working title of the film was Back Porch . Charles Bogle, who is credited as story writer, was a pseudonym of W. C. Fields. Several sources list Morgan Wallace's character as "Jasper Fitchmueller." Contemporary sources note the similarity between the storyline of this film and Fields's 1926 It's the Old Army Game (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30 ; F2.2772). A contemporary reviewer in Var felt that this film was inappropriate for "polite houses" due to several scenes, among them, the one in which Bissonette shares the bathroom mirror with his daughter. Modern sources include the following cast credits: Bud Fine ( Driver ), Eddie Baker ( Yard attendant ) and Buster, a dog. While the press book notes that this is Baby LeRoy's first speaking role in a film, the pressbook for the film Miss Fane's Baby Is Stolen (see below) claims that the film documents the first word spoken by Baby LeRoy. According to a modern source, the porch scene was filmed at Lasky Ranch, and the last scene was shot at Fields's home in Encino, CA. In addition, modern sources note that actress Jean Rouveral apparently won her role in this film as part of Paramount's "Search for Beauty" contest. Modern sources also claim that gossip regarding Fields's "spiking" of Baby LeRoy's milk derived from the set of this film. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   4 Sep 34   p. 3.
Daily Variety   12 Oct 34   p. 3.
Daily Variety   8 Nov 34   p. 3.
Film Daily   17 Nov 34   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Nov 34   p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald   15 Sep 34   p. 42.
Motion Picture Herald   24 Nov 34   p. 39.
New York Times   5 Jan 35   p. 20.
Variety   8 Jan 35   p. 18.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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