Thursday, May 10, 2018

Parlor Bedroom and Bath

Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (Edward Sedgwick, 1931) M-G-M had a relative hit with their first talkie featuring Buster Keaton (Free and Easy), but, artistically, it was an uncomfortable stretch for the versatile comedian-film-maker. His next film, also directed by Edward Sedgwick (and Keaton) hewed a bit closer to Keaton's classic style, depending less on verbal jokes and more on sight-gags and physical humor.

Keaton, this time, plays Reginald Irving, a humble flyer-hanger ("a sign-tacker" as he describes it), who, while putting up bills around the palatial Embrey estate (which is actually Keaton's own sprawling Hollywood house—way to double-dip on the budget, there, Joe) is struck with good fortune...when he is hit by a car. He is immediately rushed inside the house where his hosts, the Embrey sisters, see to all his recuperating needs. 

What Reginald doesn't realize is that he is convalescing in a hornet's nest: younger sister Ginny (Sally Eilers) wants to marry Jeffrey Haywood (Reginald Denny), but won't because her older sister Angelica (Dorothy Christy) hasn't married yet and her tastes are so discriminating that such a happy occasion isn't going to happen anytime soon. This is frustrating to Ginny and Jeffrey, so he takes matters into his own scheming hands—he tells the stricken Reginald, who is noticeably enamored of Angelica, that she has a crush on her crushed guest, then tells Angelica that Reginald is actually "Reggie" Irving, international playboy and breaker of hearts, whose decision to leave Europe has left the divorce lawyers there in tears. The idea is to hook them up, leaving the bridal path clear for he and Ginny.
Of course, the best of plans and the course of love, even one wholly fabricated, can never run smoothly...especially in a Keaton movie. Pretty soon, the conniving Jeffrey sends a bevy of previously unknown women to his room to fuss over him, making Angelica very jealous and more determined to have "Reggie" for herself. While Jeffrey whips up a publicity campaign of Reggie's exploits in the local papers with gossip columnist Polly Hathaway (Charlotte Greenwood), things accelerate and soon he and Angelica are engaged.
It's rife with people being caught in compromising positions and awkward postures, as well as a stunning sight gag involving trains—recycled from one of Keaton's silent pictures, but no less spectacular for it, an extended prat-fall rondelay with a slippery hotel lobby, and a final third confined to a single hotel room where all manner of absurd and risque behavior ensues. It's a return to form for Keaton, who manages to invest his inventive energy to a film that still manages to talk all the way through it.
Special mention should be made of Keaton's female co-stars who subject themselves to very unglamorous stunt work, but especially to the ungainly Greenwood, who manages to match Keaton for bizarre behavior step by mis-step.

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