Sunday 30 December 2007

The Passionate Plumber (1932) Edward Sedgwick

Since I started paying attention to classic movies, 1932 has cropped up more than any other year. This is my 69th film from 1932 and they run the gamut from the godawful Strange Interlude to Freaks, one of my favourite precodes and favourite films from any year. Given that we're a few years into the sound era and everything I read about Buster Keaton's career suggests that it gets worse from the advent of sound onwards, this ought to be further down the quality list than most.

We're in Paris even though almost everyone speaks English except Jimmy Durante. He's Julius J McCracken, though he's as unmistakably Jimmy Durante as every character he's ever played, and he brings Keaton to the house of Patricia Alden, a young lady being pursued by an amorous married man called Tony Lagorce. Keaton is Elmer E Tuttle, the plumber of the title, but as that title would suggest he gets caught up in the whole rigmarole. Before you know it he's fighting duels for the lady's honour and falling for her in the process. To make matters worse she hires him to keep her away from Lagorce, even though she loves him.

There are signs of the career deterioration, but they're in the quality of the material and the filmmaking, not in Keaton's performance. The editing is particularly poor and many of the jokes are worse, but Keaton's stoneface is as great as ever. There are jokes that work and the fast pace of parts of the films plays well to his slapstick talents. The scenes alone with Patricia are generally good ones, as tiring as she gets, and we root for him all along.

At the end of the day though, this film fits into Keaton's career between Sidewalks of New York and Speak Easily, neither of which was particular great. Unfortunately it fits rather nicely. It's better than both but not by a lot. Irene Purcell is fine as Patricia but she's still annoying, and Jimmy Durante can only say things twice so much before he becomes just as annoying. It's a poor film that Keaton elevates to at least the levels of average.

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