February 6 is the anniversary of the release date of Buster Keaton’s 1932 MGM talkie The Passionate Plumber. It was based on the French farce Dans sa candeur naïve by Jacques Deval, and as such is among the least promising of potential Keaton comedy material. The alliterative title may evoke Battling Butler, but the story is more reminiscent of Spite Marriage, which itself is already weak Keaton material. A socialite pretends a plumber is her lover in order to make her real lover jealous. As in many of his other talkies, Keaton’s character is also an inventor here, a small saving grace, but it scarcely gets anywhere near the comic potential of that premise (as Keaton had in, say, The Scarecrow). The weak picture is stolen out from under Buster by his co-star Jimmy Durante and also features Polly Moran (though her comic gifts are scarcely tapped into) and Gilbert Roland.
To learn more about comedy film history, including the films of Buster Keaton, please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc
To learn about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.