Robert Benchley

Murder on a Honeymoon (1935, Lloyd Corrigan)

Murder on a Honeymoon is a tepid outing for Edna May Oliver and James Gleason’s detecting duo. It’s the third in the series and, while Oliver and Gleason are back, it’s clear some of the magic was behind the camera. Robert Benchley and Seton I. Miller’s script is a little too nice (in addition to being boring) and Lloyd Corrigan’s direction lacks any inspiration.

Honeymoon takes place on Catalina, which–from the film–seems to be the most boring vacation spot in the world. The only time the murder investigation overlaps with vacation activities is in a closed casino, which is one of the film’s better sequences.

But the script’s the real problem. It ignores suspects, forgets the supporting cast and makes Gleason way too nice to Oliver. Their bickering originally had a give and take–in Honeymoon, Gleason pulls his punches. The only one being really mean to Oliver is the film’s confirmed villain.

Even the supporting cast is a little weak. None of them have story arcs–except Lola Lane–and she’s absent for most of her own arc. Lane isn’t in the picture long enough to make an impression, but DeWitt Jennings is rather weak and Spencer Charters’s incompetent local police chief needs work. It might not be Charters’s fault, since the script never lets Oliver cut into him deep enough.

There are some amusing moments with Arthur Hoyt’s unprofessional medical examiner though.

The murderer’s identity’s a surprise, but a surprise doesn’t make up for the rest.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Lloyd Corrigan; screenplay by Seton I. Miller and Robert Benchley, based on a novel by Stuart Palmer; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by William Morgan; music by Alberto Colombo; produced by Kenneth Macgowan; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Edna May Oliver (Hildegarde Withers), James Gleason (Inspector Oscar Piper), Lola Lane (Phyllis La Font), George Meeker (Tom Kelsey), Harry Ellerbe (Mr. Deving), Dorothy Libaire (Mrs. Deving), Leo G. Carroll (Director Joseph B. Tate), DeWitt Jennings (Captain Beegle), Spencer Charters (Chief Of Police Britt), Arthur Hoyt (Dr. O’Rourke), Chick Chandler (Pilot French), Matt McHugh (Pilot Madden), Willie Best (Willie the Porter), Morgan Wallace (McArthur) and Brooks Benedict (Roswell T. Forrest).


I Married a Witch (1942, René Clair)

I Married a Witch often seems too short. Director Clair rightly focuses the picture around leading lady Veronica Lake, with Frederic March getting a fair amount of attention too, but the narrative outside them blurs. And it shouldn’t blur, given the high stakes election backdrop.

Clair’s focus also extends to troublesome plot points. Witch goes back on plot decisions just because there’s a good scene if a decision here or there is forgotten. The picture feels willfully constructed (as opposed to sublimely). Of course, this artificiality doesn’t much matter; Clair makes a fine film of Witch.

Lake’s the film’s essential element. She’s appealing whether she’s a good witch or a bad witch, whether she’s physically present or voicing a wisp of smoke. Witch isn’t about March overcoming his family’s curse, it’s about seeing what Lake is going to do to him next. Around halfway, the narrative veers in a new direction, giving both actors much different things to do. They both excel. March might not have as much to do, but it’s impossible to imagine Witch without him.

The two stars get fine support from Robert Benchley (as March’s best friend) and Cecil Kellaway (Lake’s warlock father). Susan Hayward’s around a bit as March’s loathsome fiancée–his family’s been cursed to marry poorly. Hayward doesn’t make much impression beyond the loathsome though.

Ted Tetzlaff’s photography is wondrous, ably handling some of Clair’s more ambitious flourishes. The finale has some fine effects work.

Witch is delightful thanks to Lake and March.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by René Clair; screenplay by Robert Pirosh and Marc Connelly, based on a novel by Thorne Smith and Norman Matson; director of photography, Ted Tetzlaff; edited by Eda Warren; music by Roy Webb; produced by Preston Sturges and Clair; released by United Artists.

Starring Fredric March (Wallace Wooley), Veronica Lake (Jennifer), Robert Benchley (Dr. Dudley White), Susan Hayward (Estelle Masterson), Cecil Kellaway (Daniel), Elizabeth Patterson (Margaret) and Robert Warwick (J.B. Masterson).



This film is also discussed on BASP | I Married a Witch (1942) / Bewitched (2005).

How to Be a Detective (1936, Felix E. Feist)

How to Be a Detective is a disjointed Robert Benchley miniature. He sets it up as a lecture on detecting practices and director Feist (and Benchley and his co-writers) miss the jokes. Towards the end, Feist mimics detective movie filmmaking techniques, which gives the short a boost, but it’s too little too late.

There simply aren’t enough good jokes and Detective drags out one’s set-up for over a minute. It’d be a decent gag if the viewer hadn’t been told to anticipate it for so long.

The final gag’s predictable too–and breaks the short’s narrative logic, which is otherwise pretty neat. Feist uses wipes to distinguish time change, but he keeps folding Detective in on itself. Makes for an interesting time.

Benchley’s fantastic (even he seems to realize the material isn’t the best) and keeps Detective amusing.

The great cameo from Dewey Robinson is an immense help.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Felix E. Feist; written by Robert Benchley, Robert Lees and Fredric I. Rinaldo; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Benchley (Mr. Benchley), Arthur Hoyt (Worried citizen) and Dewey Robinson (McNulty).


Blind Adventure (1933, Ernest B. Schoedsack)

Blind Adventure is a genial, nearly successful comedy thriller. Robert Armstrong, playing an unexpectedly wealthy working class American who’s vacationing in London, heads out into the fog and finds himself on a wild night. He encounters espionage, British society, a damsel in distress (Helen Mack) and trifle.

Armstrong and Mack are wonderful together (they soon reunited in Son of Kong, along with director Schoedsack and writer Ruth Rose) and the film’s failures are mostly disappointing because it should have launched a franchise for the pair. They’re Nick and Nora, but a year early and less blue blooded. They also have a fabulous third wheel in Roland Young, a burglar they meet.

Rose’s script has some good lines and a brisk pace. It’s not a comedy revolution—though its Marx Brothers influences are interesting in the context of a straight comedy thriller—but it should have been made into a better film.

It’s Schoedsack who primarily fails here. While the film’s modest budget is obvious (any London sights would be obscured by the dense fog), Schoedsack is still essentially inept. His comedy direction is atrocious—he holds the reaction shots to jokes maybe three times longer than he should, so long one wonders if there’s going to be a second joke.

Ralph Bellamy and John Miljan are both good in small roles. Beryl Mercer has a scene and a half with Armstrong and they’re quite funny.

But Armstrong and Mack are just magical; they deserved better treatment than Adventure gives them.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack; written by Ruth Rose and Robert Benchley; director of photography, Henry W. Gerrard; edited by Ted Cheesman; music by Roy Webb; produced by David Lewis; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Robert Armstrong (Richard Bruce), Helen Mack (Rose Thorne), Roland Young (Holmes), Ralph Bellamy (Jim Steele), John Miljan (Regan), Beryl Mercer (Elsie), Tyrell Davis (Gerald Fairfax), Henry Stephenson (Maj. Archer Thorne), Laura Hope Crews (Lady Rockingham), Frederick Sullivan (The General), Desmond Roberts (Harvey), Charles Irwin (Bill), Forrester Harvey (Coffee Wagon Proprietor), Marjorie Gateson (Mrs. Grace Thorne), John Warburton (Reggie) and Phyllis Barry (Gwen).


A Night at the Movies (1937, Roy Rowland)

A Night at the Movies opens with Robert Benchley in a domestic situation (Betty Ross Clarke does a fine job playing his wife). They’re trying to figure out what movie to go see. It’s a gently amusing scene—each has seen movies without the other so they’re trying to agree on an unseen one. It’s almost more interesting in a historical sense—did people really see so many movies or is Movies just, you know, advertising going to the movies.

But then they get to the theater and it takes a turn. The humor’s more absurdist (but still realistic), with Clarke now the wife whose husband can’t stop embarrassing himself in public. It’s incredibly funny—Benchley’s great, bumbling but still sympathetic amid the rude theater employees and moviegoers.

Rowland does a great job with composition, but the editing lacks any rhythm.

Benchley’s grounding makes the short’s outlandish final joke work.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Roy Rowland; written by Robert Benchley, Robert Lees and Frederic I. Rinaldo; produced by Jack Chertok; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Benchley (Husband) and Betty Ross Clarke (Wife).


How to Sleep (1935, Nick Grinde)

How to Sleep isn’t just a funny little short featuring a man who can’t get to sleep, mostly because he keeps doing stupid things, but it’s also an interesting look at how a personality works on film.

Robert Benchley wrote the film, he hosts the bookends as though it’s a serious scientific exploration and he appears as the model sleeper. During the tossing and turning and snack eating and so on, Benchley comments on his own actions. However, he’s not commenting in the first person, but in the third—the narrator and the protagonist, though played by the same person, are different characters.

The barrier breaks when the protagonist starts yelling at the narrator. But more amusing is the narrator’s charge the protagonist is only having so many problems because he drinks so much—something the audience never sees and has to take the narrator’s word for….

It’s rather smart.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Nick Grinde; written by Robert Benchley; produced by Jack Chertok; produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Benchley.


Scroll to Top