Buster Bumbles Up a Storm
The General. The Navigator. Our Hospitality. From the looks of Buster Keaton's incredible silent works, it's easy to imagine that his sound era input ain't up to snuff. True, they're hard-to-match classics, but the fun didn't stop when spoken dialogue came calling. This comedy great pressed on with a many shorts and features, three of which have been gathered into one little package by the folks at the Warner Archive Collection. The Buster Keaton at MGM Triple Feature doesn't necessarily boast Buster's best material, but the films contained within hold many a laugh for students of old-school slapstick.
Parlor, Bedroom and Bath. In this naughty little comedy of errors, Buster plays a regular schmoe pulled off the street to impersonate a homewrecking lothario. The trouble is that he hasn't a clue how to woo a woman, but with his life and a potential romance on the line, he's certainly going to give being a ladies man the old college try. At first, it seems like Parlor, Bedroom and Bath doesn't give Buster much to do. This farce sets aside a good deal of time to establishing the story, players, and stakes, leaving Buster to lay in bed or get yanked around for the first act or so. But just when it looks like the gag well has run dry, the film barrels into a madcap final act in which Keaton's character is stuck in a hotel room to face all manner of scantily-dressed cuties and pistol-wielding boyfriends. It's a doozy of a finish that saves Parlor, Bedroom and Bath from ending up all wet.
The Passionate Plumber. Love is in the air yet again, as innocent bystander Buster gets roped into a romantic tug-of-war. When a Paris socialite tires of her beau's two-timing ways, she recruits a lovestruck plumber (Keaton) to drive him jealous. Antics ensue as the handyman starts falling for the poor little rich girl, while getting used to French customs and unsuccessfully trying to hock an invention at the same time. The Passionate Plumber shares much in common with Parlor, Bedroom and Bath -- the double entendres, the pratfalls, the hanky panky -- but without the manic pacing that at least gave the latter a great third act. There just isn't much to chew on here, what with the comedy feeling tired and very obviously padded for the most part. Buster soldiers on and shines in a couple key sequences (particularly the casino scene), but The Passionate Plumber is far too rusty on the whole.
Speak Easily. Education and showbiz collide in this picture, featuring Buster as a college professor who's as oblivious as he is book-smart. En route to collecting an inheritance, the prof crosses paths with a failing acting troupe and commits to bringing their routine to Broadway. But will the show go on when the gang finds out the professor's fortune is bogus? Speak Easily saves most of Buster's physical stunts for the end (which has him swinging across the stage and toppling dancers like dominos), but luckily, the film knows well enough to build on his innocent nature beforehand. Even when some jokes don't click as well as others, you're still rooting for Buster to get the girl, save the act, and, in the process, get some sense knocked into him. Jimmy Durante (who also pops up in The Passionate Plumber) even scores some laughs as a comic whose one-liners were old when Methuselah heard them. Speak Easily is a real charmer and definitely the highlight of this set.