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Episodic look at married life and in-law problems. Adventures include a ride on a crowded trolley with a live turkey; a wild spin in a new auto with the in-laws in tow; and a sequence in which Hubby accidently chloroforms his mother-in-law and is convinced that he has killed her. When she begins sleep-walking, he thinks that she has returned to haunt him. Written by
Herman Seifer <email@example.com>
Brilliant, satiric, underrated masterpiece from Harold Lloyd.
Less profound than Keaton, less versatile than Chaplin, Harold Lloyd was still closer, on a literal level, than either of them to his intended, middle-class audience. When we think of the 1920s, we usually conjure up images of flappers and Fitzgerald, Paris and Prohibition, the Jazz Age, but for most bourgeoisie, the decade was an entrenchment of conservative, conformist, almost Victorian values, that we most readily associate with the 1950s - family, suburbia, acquistion of new contraptions, keeping up with the neighbours. Although dismissed as minor-Lloyd, HOT WATER is an hilarious, benevolent satire on precisely the same traumas - domestic entrapment, emasculated masculinity, dehumanising dominance of technology - that would haunt the likes of Sirk, Minnelli or Ray.
The film begins with disruption, rupture, misunderstanding and absence as a furious father at a wedding wonders where the bridegroom is. We cut to said absentee, who through a series of disasters ended up at the wrong church, and his best-man Harold, who thinks him an idiot for giving up the joys of bachelorhood he'll never forsake. As he swears this, he bumps into a beautiful woman he immediately falls in love with.
He should have listened to his own advice. Henpecked from the start, he has the additional problem of in-laws - an ogre-mother, a layabout elder brother, and a brattish younger one - who are always dropping in. Harold has just bought a car on hire purchase, and the family invite themselves on a ride that sees Harold breaking numerous laws, barely escaping life-threatening mishaps, and eventually crashing into an autobus. At home, spurred on by a sympathetic neighbour and drink, he decides to confront his mother-in-law.
I have no idea why even Lloyd fans don't rate this film. On a simple entertainment level, the set-pieces are superbly inventive and funny. Forced to purchase a Babel of groceries by his wife, Harold also has the misfortune to win a live turkey. On a tram home, Harold annoys the other passengers by dropping his groceries, having his turkey peck at neighbours, kick an uncharitable commuter as he tries to shake out a large spider up his trousers. The scene climaxes with the subversive fowl exposing the undergarments of a priggish matron, and Harold being kicked off the tram.
This scene is superbly choreographed, but also supremely satirical, revealing at once the consumer craze of Lloyd's (and our's) society, the need to accumulate to acquire status, and yet the way such zeal can militate against that status, because of the way it disrupts less modern forms of 'gentility'. The expulsion from the tram of Harold by a gang of respectables is equally chilling.
This lack of power in the public realm extends to the private also, in which a man's home is not his castle. It's nice to see mother-in-law jokes are not confined to dodgy old English comics, and Harold's is a real monster, as well as a leading light of the community, bulky, witch-faced, termperance campaigner, dabbler in the Occult and somnambulent (in a brilliant sequence, she rises slowly from her bed NOSFERATU-style).
Her threat to Harold is both gendered - in that she, a woman, makes him ridiculous and subservient, not a man who dominates his own home - and generational, as Harold, with his new gadgets, is constantly bedevilled by Mother's matronly, insistent, Old-World advice. The clash is quite subversive, especially in the car sequence, which leaves a policeman driven into a lake, and a wake of destruction. The tension between modern capitalism and older conservatism is again brilliantly visualised.
The car itself is fetishised as the spanking image of modernity, totem of freedom and progress. Lloyd exposes the myth of this - the bright black contraption not only takes him right back to where he started (in vast debt too), but is absolutely destroyed. This is a technology, a progress, a capitalism, that is running too fast for a society to catch up with.
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