A Husband and his Wife decide to go to the movies and check the ads in the newspaper. They discover that every theatre in town is running a double feature and one-or-the-other has already seen one of the films. They go anyway since Hubby has free tickets. But he leaves them in the car and uses his parking tickets at the theatre. It takes the entire staff to iron out the problem. Once Hubby is seated he gets a coughing fit, upsets all the audience before he goes to the lobby. He returns through the wrong door and finds himself on stage with a group of chorus girls doing a live-bit between films. All this in only eight minutes. Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
This short comedy was recently selected for inclusion as a special feature in the new DVD release of the Marx Brothers' A Day at the Races. Based on the evidence at hand, viewers unfamiliar with Robert Benchley may find it hard to believe that the guy was a first class wit on par with the Marxes themselves in his own understated way, but you'll just have to take my word for it. Better still, take a look at some of the comic articles he wrote for magazines and newspapers, most of which have been collected in book form. Benchley's nonsense pieces and essays on the frustrations of day-to-day life are still funny and often hilarious.
Benchley's short films are generally pleasant, but only occasionally rise to the level of his written output. Many of them focus on bourgeois domestic life and play rather like the later TV sitcoms of the '50s. However, the filmed versions of Benchley's double-talk lectures sometimes scale the heights of inspired insanity he regularly reached in his magazine pieces, and one very early talkie from 1928, The Sex Life of the Polyp, is one of my favorite Benchley shorts, a little gem of comic absurdity.
As for the item at hand, A Night at the Movies is a pleasant but unremarkable effort devoted to the petty irritations encountered by Mr. and Mrs. Average during an evening at the local Bijou. There is confusion with the tickets, difficulty finding seats, a tall fat man who sits directly in front and blocks the screen, someone with a persistent cough, and an arresting moment involving a small boy with an eerie stare. (Today, of course, a major problem would be cell-phones going off during the show.) For modern viewers this short may be more valuable as social history than as comedy, seeing as how it was made in an era when men in public places had to find a place to stow their hats, and dancers performed at movie theaters between the features. On that level this film is an interesting time capsule.
This modest little item may not look like much alongside the Marx Brothers, but don't dismiss Robert Benchley. You'll just need to look elsewhere for his funniest and freshest work.
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