Sunday, November 18, 2012

Passionate Plumber (1932)

I hate this film title. It leads me to believe that Buster's character, doofus Elmer, is going to be made fun of for his prowess or desire, but this is not the case at all.  In fact, Elmer, here, gets to show glimmers of intelligence we have not seen much of from Buster Keaton since his joining MGM.

The plot goes something like this: Elmer is an American plumber living in France; Jimmy Durante plays McKracken, a chauffeur, who brings Elmer to his employer's (Patricia's) house when she needs a plumber. While there, Elmer's clothes get wet and, appearing in a towel, he is mistaken for Patricia's lover, by her caddish boyfriend Tony.

Although Patricia loves Tony she wants to leave him because he won't divorce his wife. Meanwhile, we learn that Elmer has invented a sighting-handgun that shines a light where you are trying to shoot. (By the way, this actually sounds like a great invention; I don't know much about guns, but, of course we have such things now with lasers; I wonder when those got invented. . . ).  Because he's always trying to show the general his invention by pulling out the gun, people keep thinking he's trying to assassinate the guy. Although the gun plot never really goes anywhere, it does cause Elmer's path to collide again with wealthy, ditzy Patricia. Ultimately she hires Elmer to pretend to be her lover and to keep herself away from Tony.  He takes on the job with aplomb, showing plenty of spunk and stubbornness that I really like.

I don't know why this film gets such a bad rap, relative to Keaton's other films of this era. Of course its not great, but none of them are. As I've noted elsewhere, MGM has clearly missed the point of Keaton's talent and featured him in films that are far below his skills. They have put him in fluffy, overproduced farces -- places where Keaton assuredly does not belong. But, the upside is, even in fluffy overproduced farces, Keaton is still entertaining.  And here, in the Passionate Plumber, there's something more: his character is actually in control of the picture; he is the one driving the action and acting (somewhat) forcefully. He exhibits brain power and, through clever thinking, manages a final scene that brings about the ending that makes him happy. He also executes a fair amount of nice physical comedy gags, such as the serving breakfast in bed scene and the whole interlude in the casino.

Another thing this film has going for it is some good supporting actors. Gilbert Roland as Tony is wonderful. I don't know what counts as an "A-list" actor exactly, but he has to be one of the few recognizable names to appear in these Keaton talkies (other than Jimmy Durante who co starred of course).  In addition to Roland, there is Mona Maris as Nina the Spanish lover. She is a whirlwind of beauty and energy. I love her intensely stereotypic performance. Polly Moran is very good as the maid, Albine. I also enjoy Irene Purcell in the lead female role, but I admit she can't actually act. Or rather, she overacts. But she is likeable enough and her scenes with Buster are warm and genuine. She plays someone who (though torn and presumedly in love with the other guy and exasperated with Elmer) at least seems to value Elmer and act kindly to him throughout most of the movie.


  1. The title sounds more like Rule 34 Super Mario fanfiction than a 1930s farce LOL. I like this best of the Keaton MGM talkies (the only one I have not yet seen is Doughboys). I adore the running gag where Buster keeps slapping people across the face with his glove.

    1. hahaha. I'd forgotten about that. I agree this is one of the better ones. Let me know what you think of Doughboys when you get to it.

  2. The passionate plumber is the greatest, buster is most hansomest man ever.