Thursday, October 18, 2012

See Your Doctor (MGM short, 1939)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night Charles and I settled in relatively late and watched a 1938 MGM “B” called Woman Against Woman (produced and written by Edward Chodorov, directed by Robert B. Sinclair, starring Herbert Marshall, Virginia Bruce and Mary Astor, and only 61 minutes long) on the same disc I’d recorded from TCM as also contained The Case of the Velvet Claws, Midnight Court and The Divorce of Lady X and all of which seemed to have been paired because they deal with estranged couples and have scenes taking place in courtrooms. Before it, though, TCM had shown a screamingly funny Robert Benchley short called See Your Doctor, even more delightful than most of the Benchley shorts because a) he’s playing a character — put-upon suburban husband Joseph A. Doakes (ironically “Joe Doakes” was also the name of the series Warner Bros. cooked up with actor Dave O’Brien to compete with the Benchley shorts at MGM), who is digging in his garden when he’s stung by a bee. Only his obnoxious brother-in-law (Hobart Cavanaugh) gets him scared that he might really have been bitten by a black widow spider and insists he go to the E.R. — where he’s put upon first by an obnoxious nurse who keeps tearing up his admission form and filling out a new one on the flimsiest of pretexts (the district where Benchley/Doakes lives, the fact that an out-of-towner brought him, etc.) in a grim satire of medical bureaucracy that rings true even now, then by the doctor himself (it was one of those sights where you encounter a person you know you’ve seen in a million other movies and you think, “Monty Woolley? Here?” — and it was indeed he, probably appearing in this film unbilled as a favor to his old friend from the Algonquin Round Table days), who’s trying to look at Doakes’ wound while simultaneously talking to a child patient on the phone, and in the end of course it turns out to be a bee sting, it’s already healed by the time the doctor sees it, and the doctor sends our hapless hero home. (Today, of course, he’d send his insurance company a four-figure bill!)