Jeff wants to get married to Virginia, but Virginia won't marry until her older, hard-to-please sister Angelica gets married off first. Jeff pretends that a shy, never-married nobody he has just met is really a great lover, in order to get Angelica interested in him. Written by
PARLOR, BEDROOM, AND BATH is not a total waste. It is always curious to see a transitional film, and this is in several ways. It is an early Buster Keaton talkie, and demonstrates how quickly the MGM brass could desert a brilliant film maker due to total lack of interest and sympathy in his abilities. Having demonstrated in THE CAMERAMAN that he was capable of working under others and turning in superior work, Keaton still did not impress his bosses. So this programmer (there is no better way of describing it) was given to him - and only picks up when he is able to do some athletic/inventive sight gags.
The transition is also interesting for another reason - Reginald Denny. Recalled now as a usually impeccably well mannered, and elegant, British character actor (typical role: the architect in MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE), in the late silent film period Denny was a leading man in social comedies. This explains why, when PRIVATE LIVES was made in 1931, he played Norma Shearer's deserted husband. As I mentioned in my review of that film, he's capable in the role, but nothing special. What is killing about his performance is that the originator of that role was a close friend of Noel Coward's: Laurence Olivier.
Denny is given a role, fully as important to the plot, as Keaton. Maybe more so, as Keaton is pulled into the story by Denny's activities.
Taking a backhanded flip from THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, Denny wants to marry the younger of two sisters, who won't marry unless her older sister (the "Katerina Minola" of the plot) marries first. While not as violent as Shakespeare's Kate, Angelica Embry (Dorothy Christie) is sharp tongued about men and turns them all off. She has never found one that is satisfying. Denny runs accidentally into Keaton, and decides (for no really strong reason - a weakness in this farce) to present him as a great lover to Angelica. The plot really is how Angelica grows interested in Keaton, and he has to be trained to be a great lover. But other women hear of his reputation, and he is pursued by them. Frankly his bridegroom pursued by hundreds of angry would-be brides in SEVEN CHANCES was funnier.
Yet there are two sequences that stand out, that suggest what he might have done. One, I've noticed, is not liked in some of these reviews, but it has some sparks in it. He is told how to address Angelica, and keeps practicing "Oh, my darling...I love you madly...I want you badly." or words to that effect. Keaton is progressively more and more bored by these idiotic words, and when practicing with Angelica's sister Virginia (Sally Eilers) grabs the girl about the arms, and shakes her back and forth towards and away from him. It seems at first wooden and tedious, until one realizes that Keaton is being a little subversive here. Even though the film code was not fully in place in 1931, only an idiot would have failed to notice that when Keaton is doing this shaking, the rhythm of him and Eilers happens to resemble a couple having sex. It sort of undercuts the value of the words that Keaton is trying to use to sound soulfully romantic!
He does this several times, each time getting grimmer and grimmer and seemingly more willing to cut to the sexual climax chase.
The other moment is with Charlotte Greenwood. In the film she has fainted in his hotel room, and he knows that the hotel detective (Ed Brophy) is trying to catch him with a woman in his room. Knowing that Brophy is headed for his room, Keaton tries to move the unconscious Greenwood into an open closet. But she's large than he is, and he can't budge her. So, he decides to do a little mechanical activity. He removes the door of the closet from it's hinges, and lays it down so he can roll Greenwood on top. Then, slowly, he pushes the door back so it looks like it is closed. Brophy and some others break in. "Where's that woman who came in here?", Ed demands to know. Keaton, casually leaning on the door of the closet shrugs his shoulders. He almost gets away with it until a fed up Brophy, who can't find any trace of Greenwood, grabs Keaton to get the truth out of him. Then the closet door crashes down revealing a still unconscious Charlotte, much to Brophy's surprise.
Keaton liked this logical trick with doors and their hinges. He would use it years later, in a variant manner, in a comedy with Red Skelton and Esther Williams, only to have Skelton use it to confuse a nasty watch dog.
But those two moments were rarities in this film. I'll give it a "5" for the sake of the "Great Stone Face", but it really is a "3" or a "4".
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