“One adult?” said the girl peering over the edge, “and… er….”
I glanced up sharply.
“Oh, make it two,” said Jim. “It’ll flatter him.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 6, 1937.

“Will we go,” asked Jimmie Frise, “to the first show or the second?”

“If we make it the second show,” I replied, “we can walk. And a walk would do us good.”

“There’s a curious difference,” said Jim, “between the first show and the second. The first show crowd is younger, peppier. You can feel a sort of glow from that first show audience. They laugh more merrily. And their silence, in emotional bits, is sort of breathless. I like the first show crowd.”

“Personally,” I stated, “I like to go to the second show because I am sleepier. And I enjoy the picture better then. If I am wide awake I am too critical.”

“You’d be critical, anyway,” retorted Jim. “Why go through life weighing and measuring everything as if you were buying? The best things in life are gifts. Art, music, movies, books, they are gifts to us. No money can buy them. Thirty-five cents for a movie is a preposterously small sum to pay for the pleasure, joy and deep emotion you get in return.”

“Most shows are lousy,” I stated on the defensive.

“There you go,” said Jim.

“Most everything is lousy,” I explained. “The reason I say that is that I believe in the power of criticism. If it weren’t for us critics, just think how lousy everything would get?”

“So you go around then,” said Jim, “kicking and squawking on general principles?”

“Precisely,” I agreed. “I am very fond of grilled whitefish. I eat it nearly every day. I never get tired of it. And most of it is so good I could burst into tears. But every day of my life, I make it my business to kick and squawk to the waitress telling her how rotten it is, and how stale the fish is, and how badly grilled. I do this in order to keep up the wonderful quality. I never let down for an instant. Because it is my belief that if the waitress and that chef and that restaurant manager knew it was always good, they’d get careless.”

“For heaven’s sake,” said Jim, looking at me very distastefully.

“Well, can I help what I believe?” I demanded. “Do you mean to insinuate that I am responsible for what I believe?”

“For mercy’s sake,” breathed Jim, aghast.

“My dear boy,” I laughed, “don’t be so childish. If everybody was responsible for what they believed, how could you explain nine-tenths of the human race who believe such poppycock? No, sir, a man believes what he is told and what his pathetic and narrow experience teaches him. He is helpless. He has no more chance of coming to a free and unbiased belief than a circus horse has.”

“You’ve got the weirdest ideas,” said Jim.

“So when I say most movies are lousy,” I went on “I don’t mean that I haven’t gone cold all over when Charles Laughton recited the Gettysburg speech; or leaped for joy when W. C. Fields took a billiard cue in hand. I confess that when Norma Shearer turns her beautiful mysterious gaze into the eye of the camera, my heart stands still. And as for Eleanor Powell, when she dances, the years drop away from me like a ragged old garment.”

Divine Discontent

“But still you say they’re lousy,” said Jim.

“On principle only,” I explained. “I saw The Informer sixteen times, often having to motor away out as far as Georgetown or even to Goderich to see it. The first time I saw it, when we came out into the bright lobby and my wife was re-adjusting my neck muffler the way wives always do, she looked at me and said, ‘dear me.’ And I stopped weeping long enough to state emphatically, ‘It’s a lousy show.’ You see the principle of the thing, don’t you?”

“I regret I do not,” said Jim coldly. “I know a good show from a bad show. But I hate the critical mind that pulls everything to pieces. They examine everything as if they were buying it, not knowing it is a divine gift. All the money you have got would not buy you the pleasure and joy one movie can bring you. Or one book. Or one beautiful painting. Or even one swift song on the radio. I say, take it. Take it for what it is worth. All beauty is a divine gift. Some stirs you more than others. Let it go at that. If anything stirs you even the least little bit, thank God.”

“Jim,” I said slowly. “I never heard such folly from human lips. Only in the war, near some artillery horse lines, at feeding time when all the mules got going, have I heard such a remark as that one from you. The present perfection of the human race is due, I should say, one hundred per cent to the eternal squawkers. The houses we live in, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, are all the result, and only the result of a discontent more divine than all art. Our laws and customs, our every item of daily life, great and small, is as good as it is, and heaven knows that’s not very good, because somebody was always throwing plates at the cook. What do you suppose it is that makes wives go to all that trouble to make us good meals but the age-old fear, inherited from their ten thousand grandmothers that we will hurl the hash at their head?”

“I think we had better,” said Jim, rising, “go to the second show. What you need is a good laugh.”

“I don’t think anybody could make me laugh to-night,” I said. “I feel a divine discontent stirring within me.”

“Too much grilled whitefish,” suggested Jim, as we proceeded to the coat closet.

We had ten blocks to walk and a pleasant walk it is, along the brightly lighted suburban main street, with its little shops of every kind. Drug stores with windows like jewellers’, filled with all kinds of beautiful and interesting things. Hardware stores with interesting things. Hardware stores with objects every man desires, pliers, screwdrivers, plush covers for steering wheels, axes, good sturdy coffee percolators. Little shoppes full of china and bric-a-brac and framed pictures. Small furniture stores with darkly shining walnut under soft lights. Flower shops, fruit stores riotous with color. It may be only the night, but there is an attraction about the suburban main streets that the high and mighty down-town can never quite achieve.

“Why,” I demanded, “haven’t they got fishing tackle shops in these districts?”

“It’s a pity about you,” said Jim, staring earnestly and long at a beautiful galvanized hot water tank in a plumber’s window.

“It’ll Flatter Him”

Thus we came to the movie theatre, just nice time to see the first show crowd straggling out. This is another reason for attending the second show. It is possible to observe the faces of these people emerging and catch from their expression some idea of what has been going on inside. If I were a first-class painstaker, that is how I would decide whether to attend a picture or not. Visit the neighborhood a couple of evenings and stand in front of the theatre to watch the people emerging. If they showed by their behavior that it was a good entertainment, then one could risk thirty-five cents.

“I’ll get the tickets,” said Jimmie, reaching into his pocket.

We lined up at the booth and presently came to the wicket.

“One adult?” said the girl inside peering over the edge. “And… er…”

I glanced up sharply.

“Oh, make it two,” said Jim. “It’ll flatter him.”

“Jim,” I stated, as we entered the lobby. “I regard that as a piece of impertinence.”

“The poor girl,” said Jim, “could only see your hat. You could tell by her face as soon as she saw yours…”

“A piece of impertinence,” I repeated loudly, as we entered the ticket door. The grand duke taking the tickets was slightly in the way. I butted him out of the way.

“Easy,” said the grand duke.

“Easy what?” I inquired firmly. “Do you want me in here or don’t you? If you do, don’t stand in the passage.”

“Pssst,” said Jim.

In the inner lobby, a beautiful young man in blue costume faced with scarlet and gold, stood magnificently straight, with one gloved hand extended. I hung my hat on it.

“Pssst,” repeated Jim, snatching my hat off the young fellow’s hand and taking me by the elbow.

The young man looked as if he were going to faint. He swayed slightly.

We entered the aisle.

“Lights,” I said distinctly. “Lights.”

“Psssst,” said Jim. “Psssssssssssst.”

“I can’t see,” I announced.

All around in the gloom I could hear mutters and sounds of people stirring and shifting.

An usher appeared, turned his flashlight on my face.

“Turn it off,” I ordered. “Show me to a seat, that’s all I paid for. I didn’t pay for all this…”

“Pssst,” said Jim.

“Why don’t they leave the lights on,” I insisted, “until the one mob is out and the new mob gets seated. How do they expect…”

“Cut it out,” hissed Jimmie in my ear.

The usher was halted, directing us into a row of seats, from which people were already half rising, bent over, to let us pass.

“This is too far back,” I told Jim. “We don’t want to sit away back here.”

“Hush,” said several people around. “Pssst.”

“Psssst yourself,” I retorted. “What kind of a business is this, where they sell you admission and then…”

“Shut up,” said Jim in my ear, at the same time giving me his knee in the lowermost region of the back, as it were.

Muttering and Head-Turning

“Jimmie,” I said, turning to face him, “what’s the matter with you? Can’t I get a seat where I want it without all this…”

Jim shoved me down the aisle, where, amid a sea of dim faces turned in our direction, the usher again waited, his torch discreetly shooting a beam of light along the floor of another row of seats.

“Ah,” I said, “this is better, admiral.”

One of the men half standing to let me pass had his bulky overcoat held in front of him and as I went by, I gave it a hoist. He gave me a shove in return.

“Here,” I said, “what’s the idea?”

But Jim from behind hustled me on. We got to our seats. By now there was quite a lot of muttering and head-turning going on all around us. Jim sunk deep into his seat. I stood up and removed my overcoat with due deliberation.

“Sit down,” came several low voices.

“Must I?” I inquired.

“Sit down,” they repeated more loudly, and by now large numbers of people were complaining on all sides.

“When I’m ready,” I informed them.

I had to get up again briefly a couple of times until I had my overcoat comfortably folded for sitting on so as to see over the heads of the people in front. But presently all grew quiet. Jim, who had been crouched deep in his seat, gradually sneaked himself up to a proper sitting posture and favored me with a long stare which I could feel even in the dark.

The picture was a drama. It was about a dear old blind mother in Austria whose children had all gone to America to make good. They had not, as a matter of fact, made good. One was a taxi driver and another a chorus girl and the third was at music teacher with a pitiful local practice. But they sent their money home to dear old mother in Austria, and wrote her lying letters about owning motor cars and being. musical comedy stars and famous pianists on concert tours all over America.

It went from bad to worse. The scene as mother leaves Austria on a surprise visit to her wonderfully successful children in America was terrible, but when she arrived in America, it got really tough.

I began groaning very softly about that part. And when a marvellous eye specialist was called in to restore mother’s sight, and he turned out to be a fat spectacled gentleman with his eye on the loveliest elder daughter, I began to applaud. Each time he came on, I applauded heartily. The villain was a woman and I began hissing her.

“Cut it out,” said Jim, softly.

I replied by applauding the fat eye specialist.

Functions of Criticism

Jim seized his coat and rose and hurriedly wiggled out the row and left. It is not so easy to be independent when you are left alone. I clapped a couple of times and hissed once, when I noticed two ushers and another man in the aisle, standing. A flashlight was turned on me.

“This way, please,” said the usher.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“You are disturbing the show,” said the man with the ushers, who turned out to be the manager.

“Indeed,” said I, “anything that could disturb this…”

Two people behind me, I think they were ladies, got hold of my collar and rather than make a scene, I took my coat and went to meet the usher who was coming along the row to help me.

We all went up the aisle together, amid a mild scattering of applause to which I paused and bowed.

In the lobby, Jimmie was waiting, pale and formal.

“I’ll look after him, gentlemen,” said Jim to the resplendent ushers and the manager. “Wait till I have a look at him,” said the manager, “so I’ll know him. Boys, take a good look.”

Jim held my coat for me.

“A little misfortune,” said Jim, “happened at the ticket booth on our way in.”

“What was that?” asked the manager.

“Nothing at all,” said Jim. “Just one of those small trifles that sometimes spoils a man’s whole evening.”

“I was within my rights.” I started. But Jim just took my arm and hustled me forth to the street.

“It was a punk show anyway, Jim,” I said. “We’re well rid of it. That eye specialist…”

“How in the world,” said Jim grimly, “you could put on an exhibition like that!”

“I was doing everybody in there a favor,” I said.

“Is that so?” said Jim.

“I was making them all feel,” I explained, “how much better they were than me. Suppose there were no people like the ones I was imitating? How would the great majority of people know how nice they are?”

“So it was just human kindness on your part?” said Jim.

“Criticism,” I elucidated, “has two major functions. One is to keep squawking and complaining so as to keep everybody up to scratch. The other form of criticism is constructive. It is demonstrating how measly human nature can be, in the hope that it will be an object lesson to others.”

“So you’re a critic?” said Jim.

“Maybe,” I confessed. “I’m only a little upset to-night.”

“Too much grilled whitefish?” said Jim.

“Never too much,” I assured him. “But at lunch to-day, as a matter of fact, Jim, it was not quite fresh and was a little underdone.”

“Did you mention it to the waitress?” asked Jim.

“I was too disappointed,” I explained.

Editor’s Notes: Greg was being a jerk in this story, but it is not clear to me why he was bothered at the ticket window. Perhaps because he was short and initially assumed to be a child? I don’t think senior rates existed then.

35 cents in 1937 would be $6.90 in 2022.

The various actors mentioned were Charles Laughton, W. C. Fields, Norma Shearer, and Eleanor Powell.

The Informer came out in 1935, and won 4 Academy Awards.

Greg was calling the ushers “admiral” and “the grand duke” because they were quite formally dressed back then, often in uniform tuxedoes or formal wear that was not that different from military officer formal wear.