#75) The Sex Life of the Polyp (1928)

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#75) The Sex Life of the Polyp (1928)

OR “Benchley Warmer”

Directed by Thomas Chalmers

Written by Robert Benchley

Class of 2007

The Plot: A somewhat inept doctor (Robert Benchley) lectures a women’s club about his studies regarding the polyp’s reproductive practice, hemming and hawing his way through the more delicate details.

Why It Matters: The NFR cites no specific reason, but an essay by silent comedy expert Steve Massa tells us about the brief but memorable film career of Robert Benchley.

But Does It Really?: I give this the slightest of passes only as a representation of Robert Benchley. The film is intentionally droll, but some of the jokes still land. And hey, at least it’s short.

Everybody Gets One: A celebrated essayist and member of the famed Algonquin Round Table, Robert Benchley had been performing his comic lectures on stage for years before Hollywood came a-callin’. He went back and forth between acting in and writing for films before his alcoholism took his life at the age of 56.

Wow, That’s Dated: This film briefly depicts women’s clubs at the height of their movement.

Title Track: Benchley says the title once near the beginning of the film.

Other notes

  • What is the deal with the framing on this short? Am I just watching a bad print?
  • Such frank sex talk for 1928, how scandalous back now.
  • By talking around a polyp’s natural asexuality, Benchley inadvertently promotes transgender rights about 85 years before it was fashionable. Right on!
  • Shout out to Ethel Barrymore.
  • Nice animation. Very “Origins of Love”.
  • How much of this will be on the final?

Legacy

  • The success of “The Sex Life of the Polyp” led to several of Robert Benchley’s other comic lectures being filmed, eventually leading to Benchley getting his own series of humorous shorts with MGM.
  • Such people as humorist Dave Barry, author James Thurber, and fellow NFR filmmaker Sid Laverents have cited Benchley as an influence.
  • Benchley’s years with the Algonquin Round Table were fictionalized in the 1994 film “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle”. Campbell Scott plays Benchley while wooing Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Dorothy Parker and wearing the hell out of a pencil moustache.

Further Viewing: A loving documentary on the Algonquin Round Table, “The Ten-Year Lunch” won the Academy Award for Best Documentary, one of the rare times a film not tackling a contemporary social issue won the prize.

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