by Tony d’Ambra
The pre-coder The Dentist is about as close as Hollywood ever got to Dada. W. C. Fields wrote and starred in this late Mack Sennett talkie about a dentist who would rather be creating havoc on the golf-course than torturing his hapless patients. Running at just over 20 minutes you get good value with a lot more than a laugh a minute.
No ifs and buts, Fields was a misanthrope and a misogynist. Cruel, base, and egotistical, he lays brutal sway over all and sundry, family or stranger, friend or foe.
Liker most dentists of the period, his surgery is part of his home. We find him at breakfast being served by his adult daughter. No wife in sight. We get standard gags about his lost glasses being on his head and the morning paper hidden under his arse. Fields’ side-winder voice delivery hooking you every time.
Wandering into the kitchen to show his daughter an article in the newspaper, Fields gets her attention by patting her back-side while she is bending over looking into the ice-box, and discovers she is in love with the ice-man – she thinks the pats are from the beau. He doesn’t approve and a running gag will be his attempts to lock her away. More strange and disquieting of course are the forbidden yet overt sexual undertones. TV censors seem to have missed this when they cut a later less unsettling albeit more obvious sexual sequence involving an unorthodox extraction procedure that is more about penetration.
Fields wants to get in a round of golf before his first appointment. On the golf-course he of course is hopeless, makes crazy interpretations of the rules, and in a fit of piqué throws his caddy after his golf-bag into a lake, after having knocked out another golfer from a shot hit with deliberate negligence, and then complaining when the victim’s knocked-out dentures get in the way of a put!
Back in the surgery, we witness a cavalcade of patient abuse and withering one-liners. A dizzy wailing broad with a toothache displays her legs and ample behind – more than once – as she bends over to show Fields where a dog bit her on the leg. The dentist’s drill – sounding more like pneumatic road equipment – is deployed with careless abandon. Teeth are spat out and ducks released from a capacious beard – the owner’s mouth found only after the use of a stethoscope. An extraction from a female patient with rather long legs becomes an extended ‘dry-hump’ as the pliers do their difficult work, with one of her high heels ending up stuck in one of Fields’ trouser pockets.
Penetration, pain, sadomasochism, biting, stomping, sex, contempt, incompetence, demolition, more sex, and farcical characterisations. Bunuel and Dali eat your hearts out!
How The Dentist made the Top 100:
Peter M: No. 10
Frank Gallo: No. 17
Sam Juliano: No. 32
Frank Aida: No. 48
Tony d’Ambra: No. 51
John Greco: No. 58
Jason Marshall: No. 60