It’s the Old Army Game is a comedy about a small town druggist (played by W.C. Fields) who gets involved with a real estate scam. Louise Brooks plays the druggist’s assistant, and love interest. The film was Brooks’ fourth, and it reunited her with the Fields, the film’s star. The two had worked together in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1925.
In its review, the Newark Star-Eagle stated, “This picture not only affords a good deal of typical Fields comedy in a suitable story frame, but also reveals the possibilities of Louise Brooks, Follies girl who is making decidedly good in the cinema. . . . All told, Fields need not regret his first Paramount production. Louise Brooks, with a touch of piquancy, a good range of registration, and the conception of restraint, is pleasing as the heroine.”
It’s the Old Army Game was originally announced as starring Fields and future “It girl” Clara Bow, but she was shooting Mantrap (1926), so the female lead fell to Brooks. Exhibitor’s Herald stated, “Louise Brooks is the other important person in the picture and, as insinuated rather bluntly on the occasion of her first appearance — in The American Venus — she’s important. Miss Brooks isn’t like anybody else. Nor has she a distinguishing characteristic which may be singled out for purposes of identification. She’s just a very definite personality. She doesn’t do much, perhaps because there isn’t much to do but probably because she hits hardest when doing nothing, but nobody looks away when she’s on screen. If Miss Glyn should say that Miss Brooks has ‘it,’ more people would know what Miss Glyn is raving about. But in that case she would not be raving.”
The Portland Oregonian noted “Louise Brooks, the pert young woman who will be remembered for her work in The American Venus and A Social Celebrity, the latter with Adolphe Menjou, has the lead role opposite Fields. She poses a bit. An excuse was found to get her into a bathing suit too, which wasn’t a bad move, on the whole.”
It’s the Old Army Game received mostly positive reviews, though some critics noted its rather thin plot. Algonquin Round Table playwright Robert E. Sherwood (who would go on to win four Pulitzer Prizes and an Academy Award) was then writing reviews for Life magazine. His pithy critique read, “Mr. Fields has to carry the entire production on his shoulders, with some slight assistance from the sparkling Louise Brooks.” Ella H. McCormick of the Detroit Free Press countered with “Fields scored a splendid triumph in this picture. A great part of the success of the offering, however, is due to Louise Brooks, who takes the lead feminine part.”
Today, It’s the Old Army Game is largely remembered as a starring vehicle for Fields — a comedic great, It is also remembered for the fact that not long after the film wrapped, Brooks married the film’s director, Eddie Sutherland.
“Elmer Prettywillie, the village druggist, is awakened by a woman who needs a 2-cent stamp in the middle of the night. Seeking again a state of somnolence, Prettywillie must contend with the clamorous collectors of garbage, and with those of his own castle who have caught forty winks and then some. The letter-carrying lady, in trying to post her missive, manages to summon the city’s fire department to the pharmacy where, unable to find a fire, they sit and sip sodas while Prettywillie panders to their every want. When they leave, a bit of a blaze does erupt, but Prettywillie is forced to his own resources. Meanwhile, George Parker is smitten with Elmer’s buxom assistant and uses the storefront to promote a bogus land deal. The Prettywillie fortune is thus inflated, enabling the purchase of a flivver, but Elmer ends up wrecking a Florida estate and finally the flivver, foiling the schemers and delighting the denizens of the town, whose jubilation Elmer takes for an acute case of distemper. He jails himself for safekeeping.”
The film, especially interiors, were shot at Paramount’s Astoria Studios on Long Island (located at 3412 36th Street in the Astoria neighborhood in Queens) and in Manhattan. Location shooting, including exteriors, was done in Ocala and Palm Beach, Florida in February, 1926.
Under its American title, It’s the Old Army Game, documented screenings of the film took place in Australia, Canada, England, Jamaica, Japan, and New Zealand. In Czechoslovakia the film was promoted under the title The Old Army Game. Elsewhere, this motion picture was known to have been shown under other-language titles including Die Strake des Grauens (Germany);El boticario rural (Argentina); Een Apothekersstreek (Belgium); To je starí hra armády (Czechoslovakia); Un Conte D’Apothicaire (France); チョビ髯大将 (Japan); Un Conte d’hapoticaire! (Luxembourg); El Boticario Rural (Mexico); Pierewaaier — Pilledraaier (The Netherlands); El boticario rural (Spain); and Mannen som gör vad som faller honom in (Sweden).
The film is extant. Copies are held at the Cinematheque Royale de Belgique (Bruxelles), Cineteca Del Friuli (Gemona), Library of Congress (Washington D.C.) George Eastman House (Rochester), BFI/National Film and Television Archive (London), and Harvard Film Archive (Cambridge). It has been released for home video on VHS and DVD by various companies, which according to a page on silentera.com, were likely mastered from a 16mm reduction print. Most of those earlier releases are out-of-print. Rumor has it the film will be released on Blu-ray in 2016.
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— “The Screen; Commander Byrd’s Film“, by Mordaunt Hall (New York Times, July 5, 1926)