Robert Lees

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).


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).


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