Nice to see Mr. Keaton again…
Early sound films can be funny. The stereotype is, of course, that actors had to huddle around a microphone badly hidden or not while punching out their lines with all the sincerity of rain-soaked fence posts. Buster Keaton being Buster Keaton, though, all bets were off, and one of his craziest early sound films is the 1931 roller coaster, Parlor, Bedroom, and Bath.
The story takes place among the society set, where Ginny Embrey (Sally Eilers) refuses to marry her fiancé, Jeffrey (Reginald Denny) until her older sister, Angelica (Dorothy Christy) gets married first, but the problem is Angelica likes being single. Well, that’s one of the problems. Angie is also picky to a fault.
As fate would have it, though, Jeffrey is driving along when he accidentally hits sign-poster Reginald Irving (Buster Keaton), who’s busy plying his trade in the neighborhood. Reggie flies up and hits the ground in spectacular fashion, and Jeff gets the idea to take Reggie over to the Embreys’, where the doctor looks him over and perscribes rest and quiet. The Embreys wonder who Reggie is, and Jeff spins a wild yarn about Reggie being a rich playboy who found Europe too sedate.
To everyone’s surprise, Angelica steps in and volunteers to be Reggie’s nurse, but quiet and rest are hard to come by, because she soon finds a steady stream of eligible women waiting to see Reggie, all claiming to be his fiancé. Angie does everything short of beating them off with a stick. What Angelica doesn’t know is that Jeffrey paid them all to fawn over Reggie, who can only quizzically look on at the proceedings.
Reggie is more than a little intimidated by Angelica, but after a failed escape attempt the two of them become engaged. Just for a bit of insurance, though, Jeffrey talks Reggie up, and convinces Polly (Charlotte Greenwood) a local gossip columnist, to write some intriguing prose about him. But first Polly has to spend a weekend with Reggie in a room Jeffrey’s reserved at a tony seaside hotel. Reggie is so flipped out that Jeffrey has to tell him what to order for room service (lobster and wine) and Reggie has to write down everything, including the sweet talk.
Only Nita (Joan Peers), Ginny and Angelica’s friend and wife of Fredrick (Walter Merrill) gets fed up with Fredrick’s workaholic ways and bums a ride from supposed bad boy Reggie out of revenge. Reggie being Reggie, though, the car gets a flat tire right on the railroad tracks, and he has just enough time to pull the luggage out before a passing train smashes the car to bits. Reggie and Nita are left to hitch a ride to the hotel, where the only changes of clothes they have are, funnily enough, pajamas. Nita hides in the bedroom because she thinks Reggie really is a dangerous character and the idea of cheating on her husband horrifies her.
Polly’s on her way, though, and she ends up giving Reggie step-by-step pointers on how to be a casanova which have to be seen to be believed. First, one must tell the object of one’s affection, “My darling, I love you madly. I cannot live without you. Don’t ever leave me,” before pulling them into a passionate embrace (more like a few light body slams), and finishing by kissing them and literally sweeping them off their feet. Reggie’s still hopelessly stiff but he persists, and things will get nuttier before the ending credits roll.
One of the things that I found interesting about Parlor was that it relied more on sight gags than dialogue and sight gags together. The movie has no score to speak of, and there are plenty of scenes that could have easily been in a silent movie, such as when Reggie tries to run away from Angelica, which brings all the young men on the estate trying to chase him down. For a minute I chalked the silence up to the unrestored print I was watching, but then Reggie dove into the pool and I could hear the splash. There’s another scene at the hotel desk that consists solely of Keaton and some of the staff slipping and falling on wet floor while Nita watches helplessly. It’s pretty cute, and one nice bonus is that the bellhop is played by Cliff Edwards, best known as Jiminy Cricket.
Keaton’s athleticism is on full display here, although it mostly consists of him running, jumping, and falling. Except for the scene on the train tracks, there’s very little of the mishap schtick Keaton was known for, but at least he got in a little bit and it’s grand.
In all honesty, Parlor feels like a play that was taken outside when it should have been left inside–it seems to work the best when the actors aren’t lurching all over creation because it gives us time to see what they’re doing. I think that’s why my favorite scene in the movie is when Polly tries to school Reggie on how to be an ardent lover, and he’s so inept that he can’t do anything but what she does in exactly the way she does it. Only in Polly’s case he has to stand on a couch because she’s several inches taller than he is, and it freaks her out, making her faint dead away. Then he proceeds to give out the same routine to Nita, who also freaks out and bolts. After the very confusing coup de gras, Reggie tries out the ardent lover thingie a third time only to have it actually land properly. No, I’m not going to say who it is. although it’s not a huge mystery.
It also would have been nice if Keaton and Greenwood had more screen time together, because they seemed to have the funniest chemistry of the entire cast, most of whom spent the entire film shrilly overacting. Meanwhile Greenwood’s wry commentary is a nice contrast to Keaton’s dry comic timing, and they each had their own brand of athleticism (Yes, Greenwood does one of her famous kicks during a particularly rollicking bit). It really works, but alas, Keaton and Greenwood are only granted about fifteen minutes or so.
So yeah, Parlor, Bedroom and Bath is a fun movie, albeit one that might leave the viewer shaking his or her head in disbelief, but that’s OK. It’s all good.
For more of the great Buster Keaton, please see Lea at Silent-ology. Thanks for hosting this, Lea–it was a blast, and congrats on nine years of the Buster Blogathon! Thanks for reading, all, and i hope you’ll check back here tomorrow for a wee reminder post…
Parlor, Bedroom and Bath is available on DVD from Amazon, and is free to stream for Prime customers.
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6 thoughts on “The Allure of the Bad Boy”
I’ve been meaning to see this film for ages, but just haven’t crossed paths with it yet. But I decided, in reading your review, I’d like to cover it for next year’s Buster Keaton Blogathon – if Lea is up to hosting it again.
I was disappointed to read both Buster and Charlotte Greenwood have little screen time together. Seems like a bit of a waste of brilliant casting…?
This movie’s such an odd fit for Buster, although he does his usual professional job. I agree that more scenes with him and Charlotte would’ve been great, seeing those two work together was definitely a highlight! Thanks for covering this film for the blogathon, much appreciated!
This sounds like a hoot! I will have to add it to my Prime watchlist 🙂
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That’s great! Hope you like it. 🙂
Parlor, Bedroom and Bath may have been the first Buster Keaton talkie I saw, on a PBS program called Matinee at the Bijou. I had read dismissals of all of his talkies, but I thought this one had many good gags. Unfortunately, it was also a stereotypical Canadian bedroom farce ;0) so there was lots of running around and waving arms.