As the rather fussy 'Mr. W' is dining in a restaurant, the waiter introduces him to an attractive woman, who sits down at his table. She asks him to take her to the theater, but he declines, indicating that he would prefer to relax at the restaurant. To entertain her, he teaches her a word game called the 'Minute Game'. Written by
Alexander Woollcott is now remembered primarily as the inspiration for 'The Man Who Came to Dinner'. He was also the prototype for Addison DeWitt, the drama critic played by George Sanders in his Oscar-winning performance in 'All About Eve'. There was more than a trace of 'ham' in Woollcott; he starred on Broadway in a play by S.N. Behrman, and he also performed in a stage version of 'The Man Who Came to Dinner', playing the lead role that was based on himself. But the handful of films in which Woollcott appeared prove that he was no actor.
In the 1930s, Woollcott's radio commentaries were a major influence on American culture: if Woollcott praised a book, it immediately became a best-seller. If Woollcott praised an actress, her fame was assured. Woollcott also loved games and puzzles, and popularised many of these. He is credited with inventing the knock-knock joke, and may also have invented a similar game in which players are given a word and challenged to incorporate it into a complicated pun.
"Mr W's Little Game" is a short film, not precisely a comedy, intended to introduce us to the Minute Game ... a pleasant little game of the sort which used to be popular at parties. Woollcott appears here as himself, dining in a posh restaurant, with a waiter in attendance and a brassy blonde as his dinner companion. Unfortunately, all conviction that this is a 'real' situation is dispelled immediately because we recognise the 'waiter' as character actor Leo G. Carroll. Also, although Woollcott in real life had many intimate (sexless) friendships with beautiful actresses, the woman whom he is dating in this movie is -- frankly -- not a very plausible dining companion for the prissy, fastidious Woollcott.
During their rather dull dinner, Woollcott proposes a quick round of 'the Minute Game'. His blonde companion understandably asks: 'What's the Minute Game?' and Woollcott promptly replies: 'Tell you in a minute.' That's the closest thing to a laugh in this movie. Then he explains how the game works, and it really does sound like a fun game worth trying.
The Minute Game requires at least three people, who take it in turns as the player, the scorekeeper and the timekeeper. The scorekeeper calls out a letter of the alphabet, and the player then has one minute to name as many common objects (no proper names!) as he or she can think of, which begin with that letter: the scorekeeper tallies the count, and the timekeeper cuts off the player after precisely one minute. Score one point for each accepted item. For example, if you are given the letter A, you could score points for 'apple', 'ape', 'apricot' and so forth. The letters Q, X and Z are excluded as being too difficult.
There's some clever editing near the end of this short film. The patrons at neighbouring tables have overheard Woollcott's description of the rules, and now the game has spread to all the tables. In a series of quick shots, we see diners at each table playing the Minute Game, with a different letter being played at each table.
It's really too bad that simple little games of this sort (which require a bit of brainpower) are no longer popular, and that they've been replaced by complicated and expensive pocket-sized electronic games ... which require no brains at all, and which make annoying sounds in public places. I'll rate "Mr W's Little Game" 4 points out of 10. A pleasant little time-passer.
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