An unimpressive but well intending man is given the chance to marry a popular actress, of whom he has been a hopeless fan. But what he doesn't realize is that he is being used to make the actress' old flame jealous.
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
Buster Keaton hated farces. He complained that they always depend on misunderstandings that could easily be cleared up with a few facts, and hence insult the intelligence of both the audience and the actors. The frantic pace and irrational behavior required to keep these simple exchanges of information from taking place destroy Keaton's precise, deliberate timing, his subtle expressiveness, and the kind of elaborate, carefully planned mechanical gags that were his specialty. Parlor, Bedroom and Bath is a good example of the kind of material MGM thought suited Keaton and forced on him over his objections. Not only is it the wrong style of comedy, it casts him in the humiliating role of a nerdy shrimp who is continually insulted and dismissed by other characters. In his own films Buster often played an innocent, shy young man, which worked fine in silence. Sound changes that: a man obviously in his thirties confessing that he's never so much as kissed a girl is merely pathetic. Likewise, in his own movies Buster, while ever the underdog, is dashing, ingenious and convincingly romantic, while here he is a bumbling lunkhead who is scorned by women. It's no wonder Buster was hitting the bottle at this time.
All that said, Parlor, Bedroom and Bath is not really an unpleasant film, unless you start thinking about what a comedown it was for Buster Keaton. In general I love the movies of the early thirties, and this one has the elegant fashions and saucy attitude of the era. It's quite "pre-code," though as noted above the risqué atmosphere clashes crudely with the innocence of the hero. A humble sign-tacker who is smitten with a wayward society beauty, he is passed off as a well-known rake by a man who wants to marry the woman's younger sister (who refuses to marry until her older sister doeshow's that for an up-to-date plot?) The opening of the film was shot at Keaton's home, the "Italian villa," and there's some slight charm in the early scenes in which Buster's character, having been hit by a car, recuperates in the tender care of his leading lady, who has been told he's a notorious playboy and hence admires him. The one unmistakable Keaton touch comes midway through the film when he restages the closing gag from One Week, wrecking a car instead of a house. Lacking the element of surprise as well as the buildup from the earlier film, the gag loses a lot, but at least it's obviously his work. The remainder of Parlor, Bedroom and Bath deteriorates into an increasingly shrill and hectic bedroom farce with all the characters running around a suite of hotel rooms in their pajamas. The whole film is peppered with the kind of dopey dialogue that Buster detested, and which he tosses off with all the lightness of a millstone around his neck. "Don't give me puns. Don't give me jokes. No wisecracks," he said disgustedly in a later interviewthe same in which he commented, "Life is too serious to make farce comedy." Not surprisingly, Buster looks pretty depressed throughout, though not yet marked by the alcoholism that's visible in his later MGM movies. He's still a man in his prime, if only there were anyone to recognize his talents.
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