Thursday, March 12, 2009

Comedy: The Sex Life of the Polyp (1928, Thomas Chalmers)

The Sex Life of the Polyp (1928)
USA, 11 min
Directed by: Thomas Chalmers
Written by: Robert Benchley (writer)
Starring: Robert Benchley
Robert Benchley was an American humourist whose work extended across various mediums, though he is most remembered today for his short-subject comedic shorts, particularly the "How To..." series that he produced with MGM between 1935 and 1939. He has a understated, droll style of comedy – few of his jokes actually aim to get big laughs, and most of the humour is to be found in words rather than in physical slapstick routines. In 1927, Hollywood embraced the arrival of synchronised sound, a technical innovation that proved perfect for Benchley's kind of entertainment. His first appearance on film was in The Treasurer's Report (1928). The same year, The Sex Life of the Polyp (1928) was released, a subtle and likable little comedy with an eye-catching title. As in many of his short films, Benchley plays a smug lecturer who spouts rather ridiculous nonsense to a rapt audience, in this case a ladies' club, whose members giggle nervously whenever Benchley's analogies become a little too obvious for comfort.

I only laughed aloud one or two times watching The Sex Life of the Polyp, but I had a smile on my face the whole time. The utter confidence with which Benchley recites gibberish is constantly amusing, and the actor responds well to the unfamiliar medium of sound-synchronised film (despite the poor audio quality of the print, which often made the dialogue difficult to discern). To explain the sex life of polyps, Benchley introduces a female test subject he dubs Mary, represented on the projector screen as a shivering and hairy mass. He then adds the male, who responds excitedly to the female presence, but doesn't notice when Mary is replaced by a button, and then a crumb of corn-bread. Finally, frustrated at the inactivity of his partner, the male polyp gives up and transforms into a female. Benchley then asserts that his research interests have now turned towards "some animal which takes its sex life a little more seriously." I think I can guess which animal he has in mind.


  1. I can't believe you would watch such pornography Andrew. Also, I am surprised that you could hear anything, the sound recording was awful. I couldn't finish watching it.

  2. The online prints aren't very good, unfortunately. However, the film was sleected for the National Film Registry in 2007, so a better version must exist somewhere.

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