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Writer and humorist Donald Ogden Stewart came up with some good
material for this short comedy, and it has some good moments. But in
general it really would have worked better under a different format. It
most likely would even have worked better simply as printed text, with
his map printed for the reader to enjoy for himself or herself.
The movie satirizes the traffic conditions in the theater district of New York City, and even without being familiar with the time and place, it is not hard to 'get' the jokes. Stewart appears as a speaker on a plain stage, and later on displays a large map of the area, filled with comic details. The format almost certainly aimed to duplicate Robert Benchley's approach in his short comedies, which he had started to make in 1928. Stewart's on-screen style, though, does not work as well as Benchley's does.
Although the topic is promising and it does lead to some good moments, the delivery style does not make the most of the material, and the map would really be funnier if you were allowed to read it for yourself and to enjoy the details at leisure. Having a speaker talking about it and pointing out the areas of emphasis actually causes it to lose something in this case.
In the early years of the era of all-sound movies, there was a lot to be learned not only about the best ways of filming the material, but even about what kinds of material would work the best. Many early sound movies chose their subjects solely for the amount of dialogue that they contained, and it would take a little while for film-makers to become more skilled in selecting subjects that particularly lent themselves to film.
Traffic Regulations (1929)
* (out of 4)
This Paramount short comes a year after Robert Benchley started doing his "lecture" comedies at Fox. I'm guessing they did quite well as far as business goes or else we wouldn't have gotten this rip-off featuring Donald Ogden Stewart. Stewart does exactly what Benchley would have done as he's in front of a group of people telling the story of a woman who let her son go to the theater but he ended up getting lost in the confusing traffic and never returned home. Now, this woman's next son wants to go so to calm her fears he decides to use a map to show how people should drive to this theater. I've said countless times that I didn't find Benchley's humor to work in this setting and sitting through this 6-minute short almost had my clawing my eyes out. Benchley could usually be mildly entertaining but that's not the case here. If you thought his humor was dry then you haven't seen anything yet as Stewart makes the other comedian seem dripping wet in terms of laughs. The entire story about the woman losing her family to getting lost was just downright silly and not a word of it funny. The movie got less and less funny each passing minute and once he pulls the map out things just fall apart even more. Needless to say, this one here isn't recommended.
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