This 30-minute film marked Benny Hill's last attempt to break onto the big screen. Why he thought a short film would be his ticket is beyond me. Except for special festivals, short films haven't received much distribution or attention since the 1940s. This one apparently sat on the shelf for two years until Paramount finally picked it up. (Although it was released in 1971, the copyright clearly says 1969.) That's a shame because I'd rank it as one of Hill's finest efforts. The plot can be summed up quickly: Hill plays a caterer who gets drunk on the job and proceeds to make a disaster of a middle class couple's dinner party.
"The Waiters" is an homage to silent film comedians like Chaplin and Keaton. Although there are sound effects, music, and even one or two murmurs from the actors, the film contains no dialog. Hill and his actors, including a few familiar faces from his TV show, do a pretty good job of recapturing this type of comedy. Even the conflict between the working class waiters and the middle class diners, which operates as an undercurrent, seems in keeping with the homage. (Hill is obviously critical of the "high-falutin" airs of the middle class diners who hire temporary servants just as Chaplin was critical of ostentatious displays of wealth.) But this subtext isn't important because the comedy works by itself. This is a very funny film! By the way, if you only know Hill's comedy through "The Benny Hill Show," you're in for a pleasant surprise. Since the entire 30 minutes is dedicated to one story, we actually get a full story arc rather than a series of episodic gags. Also, because there's no dialog (which I've always felt was Hill's greatest weakness as a comedian), we don't get the endless parade of double entendres that we do in his later TV shows. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and admit that I like this short film better than "The Benny Hill Show." Like I said earlier, I think it's one of his best achievements.
"The Waiters" is available as an extra on Anchor Bay's 2003 DVD release of "Who Done It?" (which was Hill's only feature film in the starring role). In my opinion, "The Waiters" is far superior to "Who Done It?" -- even though "Who Done It?" was produced at legendary Ealing Studios. (By 1956, when "Who Done It?" was released, Ealing was definitely in decline.) I'm not sure that it's worth buying the DVD just for "The Waiters," but it's definitely worth a rental.
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