Robert Benchley and TCM – why do you do this to me?

When I hear the opening refrain of the jingle “Come one, come all/ We’ll have a ball…”, I groan inwardly.  First, the song is incredibly annoying – not as annoying as the voice that brays, “This week in Hollywood historrrreeeee!”, true, but naff none the less.  Second, the One Reel Wonders shorts that TCM use as inter-film filler invariably feature Robert Benchley, least when I am watching.

And try as I might, I am immune to his charms. I am very susceptible to Campbell Scott, and his charms when portraying the man himself in Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle. But Benchley himself makes me weary and irritated.  He gives me the kind of mild headache that causes wonder if my flu shot worked.

In the delightful Major and the Minor he was used to reasonable effect as the most annoying kind of man a poor working girl like Ginger could have the misfortune to service. Sadly Mr Benchley has transferred this attitudinal style to many of the aforementioned One Reel Wonders. Comics who laugh at their jokes whilst corpsing or having a hysterical giggling fit are one thing. But an actor who uses hearty chuckling at his puns as part of his routine whilst playing pompous bumbling fellows, is just annoying, no matter how brainy the actor playing this character may be in real life.

So, recently, lest I broke out in hives when the episode concerning newts turns out to be on again, upon realising a One Reel Wonder was imminent, I investigated whether a Sex and the City rerun or the tail end of a Monk/House/Numbers-inspired drama or some information on the Weather Channel was on, in order to pass the minutes in a more entertaining fashion.

Happily, it was the second.   On another station I watched Lie To Me in awe as the amazonian Jennifer Beals, as the ex-wife Tim Roth, stood at least one head over him as they indulged in some hostile flirting. This duo brought with them many memories from my childhood – Jennifer’s iconic off-the-shoulder tee, Tim Roth rivaling Gary Oldman as the eccentric Englishman of my tweenage affections… I was so taken with this duo, far more so than Mr Benchley, that I missed the opening 4 minutes of The Mask of Fu Manchu.

*shakes fist at the heavens*
Damn you, Benchley!

2 thoughts on “Robert Benchley and TCM – why do you do this to me?

  1. I’m a long time Benchley fan, but I can see your point. He’s a bit of an acquired taste. I discovered him via Thurber (who wrote glowingly about Benchley) and once I dug into his books (notably, “Pluck and Luck”) I came to appreciate his acid wit, his silliness, his ability to spoof himself. (His later “Menace of Buttered Toast” is one prime example.) As for the shorts…some of the headache inducing aspects are due to the production quality and convention of the times. But if you can get ahold of his truly dada-esque shorts…such as “No News is Good News’, you may yet succumb to his charms. Bottom line: almost all American humor, from Thurber to Woody Allen to The Daily Show derive from Benchley’s work. Something all these notables would acknowledge.

  2. Thanks for replying!
    It is not so much his material that bothers me, as his delivery style. And the overkill by TCM (if I see the How to Vote short one more time…) coupled with that earworm of a jingle. A few years ago I surreptitiously read one of his pieces from a book in a charity store and laughed out loud, but didn’t buy it. Good call on Woody Allen – the self-deprecating wordiness is certainly familiar. By and large, I don’t blame him for Hollywood – I’m sure the acting paid better than writing, even though the latter is his legacy.

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