The premise actually justifies the clever title in this case – a happily-bachelored Stooge Shemp is a music teacher. He opens the film giving a voice lesson to a shrill woman who is hitting on him a little bit. After she leaves, he claims that he would never submit to being married to a woman like this student. Well, that’s right before he receives news of a recently deceased uncle who has left him a fortune – under the condition that he is married as of 48 hours past the reading of the will. Well, Shemp calls up all the girls he knows, and if slapstick had found a way to let a woman smack a guy upside the head through a telephone, these ladies would have done so. With time running out, Shemp resorts to the tone-deaf student and they hurry to a Justice of the Peace. Of course, in the meantime the news of Shemp’s inheritance has hit the papers and all of a sudden it’s The Little Red Hen all over again – nobody wants to help bake the bread but everybody wants to help eat it! Then there’s a ton of physical comedy involving lost rings and people getting hit over the head (“I came here for an argument!”) and Shemp, to his dismay, ends up married to the student. But I suppose he gets the fortune, so it’s like he could totally afford all this cheese!
Egbert Sousé is, unsurprisingly, a souse – though he does insist on pronouncing his name “Soo-SAY” because of the “accent grave” in the typography. He is also a closet smoker and unemployed neer-do-well. One day – aw hell, it’s every day I’m sure – but one particular day he heads off to the local bar.
The recognizable bartender obliges him with drinks until he’s potted, at which point he gets talkative with a stranger, leading him to being offered a position as a replacement director for a film being shot in town, the original director being unable to perform his duties due to being drunk. See, this is irony. Of course, the film is called “The Bank Dick”, not “Sullivan’s Travels”, so you’re not terribly surprised when his directing gig lasts about two minutes. At that point, he ends up passed out on a bench and somehow in his stupor knocks over a villain who had just knocked over the local bank. One guy gets away, but a 50% criminal capture rate is better than the police were able to do.
He becomes something almost resembling a hero, a little bit. In point of fact, the bank manager is kind enough to give him a job as an in-house detective, though it does appear that his motives lie partially in the hopes that this will eventually allow him to collect mortgage payments from Sousé.
Sousé is unemployed no more, but he does put a bit more stock in his own abilities than perhaps he ought to. Slipping off during one of his first days on the job to the local bar, he runs into a con man trying to pass off some worthless mine shares for $500 – exactly the amount of the bonus coming to his future son-in-law (another bank employee, this time a real one) in a few weeks. Brilliantly, he convinces his daughter’s one true love to steal the $500 from the bank and to repay it once the bonus comes due.
Usually this would be considered to be a “bad move”, but it’s only exacerbated by the arrival of J. Pinkerton Snoopington, the government bank auditor. Hmm. That guy is going to notice the missing $500. But never fear – here he comes to save the day, you know that Mighty Drunk is on the way!
Fittingly, Sousé’s next, also brilliant plan, is to divert Snoopington to the local bar and have the bartender slip him a Mickey so he can’t inspect the books. And it works, for a day, but Nosypants eventually gets over his hangover and comes to the bank, full of suspicions that Sousé is trying to keep him away from some secret in the books.
The film is all ready to end with Sousé in federal prison until he and his future son-in-law catch a hell of a break – the other bank robber who escaped the original heist comes back to the well for more. It would seem like he’s not even concerned about the new, supremely confident Bank Dick.
This leads to a ridiculous car chase, though it doesn’t go through an indoor shopping mall, so I guess it’s not the Most Epic Police Chase Ever. It all ends with the robber being caught, the robbery apparently removing any chance of the missing $500 being noticed, and, of course, the worthless mine hitting a motherlode and making the Sousés ridiculously and undeservedly rich. The end.
Two notes, I guess. The first is that it’s nice to know that even 73 years ago the “real” American Dream consisted not of hard work and great ideas leading to fortune, but simply of hare-brained schemes allowing money to fall into your lap. Note both the film AND the short. The second is that W.C. Fields wrote the screenplay for The Bank Dick under the pseudonym Mahatma Kane Jeeves, which would have meant absolutely nothing to me, but which Wikipedia informs me is a pun of sorts for the common Broadway comedy cliche (that’s clichÉ) of “My hat, my cane, Jeeves!” I just thought that was worth recording simply for those who might have wondered (as I did) what that was all about.