Poppy is the film version of the Dorothy Donnelly musical comedy which made W.C. Fields a Broadway star back in 1923 (an earlier, less-faithful version, also starring Fields and retitled Sally of the Sawdust, was directed by D. W. Griffith in 1926). The Great Man is cast as Professor Eustace McGargle, a small-time carnival confidence trickster. Accompanied by his adopted daughter Poppy (Rochelle Hudson), McGargle joins a travelling sideshow, fleecing as many of the local yokels as time will permit. During one stopover, Poppy falls in love with Billy Farnsworth (Richard Cromwell), the son of the town's mayor (Granville Bates), while McGargle pitches woo at the faded but alluring Countess de Puizzi (Catherine Doucet). When he finds out that the "Countess" is a phony claimant to the valuable Putnam estate, McGargle conspires with local lawyer Whiffen (Lynne Overman) to pass off Poppy as the genuine, long-lost heir. As it turns out, Poppy really is the heir, a felicitous turn of events which enables McGargle to avoid being tarred and feathered by the angry townsfolk. Finishing Poppy on schedule was quite a trial for W.C. Fields, who, in addition to breaking a vertebra while filming a chase sequence, further damaged his spine in a household accident. As a result, he could barely stand up during shooting, and many of his scenes had to be completed by a stunt double. One would never know that Fields was in excruciating pain throughout the film, however: Comedy-wise, he's at the top of his form, especially when he sells a "talking dog" to a gullible rube and finagles a free lunch from an equally dense hot-dog vendor. Poppy is also the film in which Fields imparts a sage bit of advice to his screen daughter: "Never give a sucker an even break."
by Hal Erickson synopsis