Thursday, May 07, 2009

Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle (1994)

I've got such a hopeless crush on Robert Benchley, and I'm still feeling the love since finishing The Benchley Roundup, so I popped in my DVD of Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle (1994) and I've been watching it over and over all week.
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The story of Dorothy Parker and other members of the Algonquin Round Table, this movie looks beautiful, has a terrific jazzy score, the casting is impeccable -- including a powerhouse performance by Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dorothy Parker and an especially luscious Campbell Scott channeling Robert Benchley to perfection.
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Did I mention the densely uber-witty dialogue that sparkles finer and brighter than a whole damn jewelry store? When I first watched the movie on IFC, I was struck by how many of Parker's witticisms the writers managed to get into the script. During this latest spate of viewing -- now that I've read more Benchley -- I realized that there were almost as many Benchley quips as well.
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Sigh. Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle is an English major/bookworm's delight.
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7 comments:

Nymeth said...

Definitely a movie for me, then :D

Anonymous said...

I share your love for Robert Benchley. (Did you know he is Peter Benchley's grandfather, Peter being the author of JAWS?)That admiration grew after I purchased (from Amazon.com) a DVD entitled: The Paramount Comedy Shorts 1928-1942: Robert Benchley and the Knights of the Algonquin (1928); Starring: Knights of the Algonquin. You might want to order it. It's FANTASTIC, because you get to see the REAL Robert Benchley in action. Quoting Amazons description: "A nifty piece of film history is revived in Robert Benchley and the Knights of the Algonquin, a collection of 14 short films (most of them around 10 minutes) featuring Benchley or his cronies from the famed intellectual circle of New York's Algonquin Hotel. This compilation has none of Benchley's shorts from the 1930s but uses mostly his work at Paramount in the early 1940s. The archival gems, however, are his first two efforts, The Treasurer's Report and The Sex Life of the Polyp, early Fox Movietone sound films from 1928. In each, Benchley is an earnest lecturer defeated by the complications of his subject and by the labyrinth of his own syntax. These droll lectures anticipate a modern style of comedy that relies not on jokes but on concept and character. Nine Paramount shorts are included, the earliest being 1940's The Trouble with Husbands, with Benchley explaining, and acting out, the minor irritations of domestic life--which remain the subject through most of the shorts. The neurotic hyper-sensitivity of the stressed-out male is the subject of Nothing But Nerves, the ruination of a weekend with the boys becomes How to Take a Vacation, and the annoying habits of the American housewife are suggested in The Man's Angle. One of the most intriguing films is The Witness (1942), in which Benchley, exasperated by government hearings on loyalty and politics, imagines himself giving the congressional interlocutors a dressing-down. The humor here tends to be tame, although Benchley himself is an innately funny and abject presence. Alexander Woollcott, one of Benchley's Algonquin buddies and fellow New Yorker writers, is the unlikely star of Mr. W's Little Game, a truly odd and funny piece from 1934. Woollcott is not a natural for the camera, but his chubby, owlish persona is amusing, and some of his erudite put-downs are choice. Two quietly comical films from 1929 feature Donald Ogden Stewart, a future Oscar-winning screenwriter, giving fractured lectures on traffic around Broadway and bird-watching."

joemmama said...

I, too love Benchley. And I loved that movie. You reminded me just how much. Popping it in the player as I type! Thanks for reminding me.

Carrie K said...

I need to rent this, pronto! I saw it in the theater and I couldn't understand three words the sound quality was so awful.

Bybee said...

Nymeth,
Go for it!

Anonymous,
Thanks for the blurb. I love watching Benchley shorts on youtube. I'd love to get this.

Joemmama,
Another fan! Hooray!

Carrie K,
For such a talkish movie, there are a lot of challenges when it comes to listening. There is a lot of characters talking over each other and hastily delivered lines nearly under their breath. And there's Dorothy Parker's upper-class accent coupled with drunken slurriness at times. Everytime I watch it, I hear something I missed before.

chartroose said...

I'll have to rent it too, especially since I know absolutely nothing about Robert Benchley and his Algonquin cadre.

Jenny said...

I loved this film, too, but found it so sad. It's easy to remember how witty Parker is (and her writing, too) without remembering how profoundly sad it is in tandem. Quite brilliant.