Robert Charles Benchley (1889-1945) was a drama critic and writer of humorous essays, most memorably for The New Yorker, before he fell into performing after reading one of his pieces, The Treasurer’s Report, as part of a theatrical revue put together by his friends at The Algonquin Round Table.
The Treasurer’s Report was filmed in 1928, one of the very earliest sound films, which led to a series of short subjects like the one above written by and starring Benchley that lasted well into the 1940s. In the meantime, Benchley appeared as a comic supporting actor in features such as Dancing Lady (with Joan Crawford), China Seas (with Clark Gable), Foreign Correspondent (Hitchcock), and I Married a Witch (Rene Clair), and played the lead, so to speak, in Walt Disney’s The Reluctant Dragon, playing a man (himself actually) touring the Disney animation studios.
That Inferior Feeling (1940, above) is one of Benchley’s best short subjects, encapsulating as it does, his perpetual feeling of embarrassment, and his difficulties in dealing with those pesky creatures known as “other people.” Benchley’s profound sense of guilt – even when he hasn’t done anything – is not too far removed from Franz Kafka’s.[The first post in this series – before I knew it was a series – was a tribute to Mike Nichols and Elaine May.]