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Parlor, Bedroom and Bath

Parlor, Bedroom and Bath(1931)


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Jeffrey Hayward wants to marry Virginia Embrey, but she insists on waiting until her older sister Angelica gets married first. When Jeffrey hits the wandering sign-tacker Reginald Irving with his car and knocks him unconscious, he sees it as the perfect opportunity to fix up finicky Angelica with a mate. In order to pique her interest, Jeffrey contrives to remake the hapless Reginald into a wealthy playboy besieged with female admirers. He even gets his friend Polly Hathaway, a gossip columnist, to pretend to have an affair with Reginald in order to make Angelica jealous. However, Reginald's bumbling antics turn Jeffrey's scheme into a bona fide catastrophe.

Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (1931) is based on the 1917 play by Charles W. Bell and Mark Swan. It was previously adapted for the screen in 1920 by Edward Dillon, starring Eugene Pallette and Ruth Stonehouse. After seeing the play in a 1930 revival, MGM producer Larry Weingarten chose it as a starring vehicle for Buster Keaton. Keaton himself didn't care for this type of door-slamming farce, but he was able to work in the kind of physical comedy that he excelled at. The film was shot simultaneously in French and German-language versions. The main location was the Italian Villa, Keaton's actual estate in Beverly Hills; indeed, one of the film's chief attractions today is the opportunity to glimpse the truly palatial home of a Hollywood star during the heyday of the studio era.

In some respects, Parlor, Bedroom and Bath is a typical product of the early sound period. Eager for ready-made content to cash in on the demand for talking pictures, studios purchased a large number of stage plays of all kinds to adapt for the screen. They also signed up performers from Vaudeville and Broadway, since they already had well-developed speaking and musical talents. For instance, one of Charlotte Greenwood's biggest vehicles before this was the title character in So Long, Letty (1929), an adaptation of the Oliver Morosco play; Greenwood herself originated that role in the 1915 stage production. As if to further underscore the primacy of dialogue, the film lacks a musical score altogether apart from the credit sequences.

While the dialogue is undeniably dated from today's standpoint and probably seemed somewhat creaky even back in 1931, the film still contains some choice Keaton gags, particularly his tumbles up and down stairs, his arrival at the hotel in a sopping wet outfit, his slipping in the pool of water he creates at the registration desk, and his hilariously athletic lovemaking. The film also benefits from strong performances by its character actors; Reginald Denny (1891-1967), best known for his role as Algy Longworth in the Bulldog Drummond films of the late 30s, plays the suave, scheming boyfriend Jeffrey. Other standout roles for the attractive Natalie Moorhead (1901-1992) include a suspect in The Thin Man (1934) and Belle Starr in the Hopalong Cassidy Western Heart of Arizona (1938). But best of all, unquestionably, is the eccentric, loose-legged Charlotte Greenwood (1892-1977) as Polly Hathaway; her sharp line delivery and physical agility make her a formidable match for Keaton. Rodgers and Hammerstein were sufficiently taken with her skills as a stage actress to conceive the role of Aunt Eller for her in the original 1943 stage production of Oklahoma. However, she was unable to play the part until the 1955 film.

Parlor, Bedroom and Bath was released in the spring of 1931 and was generally well received. Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times praised Keaton's slapstick and Charlotte Greenwood's "marvelous energy and acrobatics," as did Variety. The reviewer for Photoplay wrote: "And until you've seen giraffy Charlotte and half-pint Buster neck, you haven't seen necking."

Director: Edward Sedgwick
Dialogue Continuity: Richard Schayer
Additional Dialogue: Robert E. Hopkins
Original Play: Charles W. Bell, Mark SwanProducer: Buster KeatonPhotography: Leonard Smith
Art Director: Cedric Gibbons
Film Editor: William LeVanway
Wardrobe: Rene Hubert
Recording Director: Douglas Shearer
Principal Cast: Buster Keaton (Reginald Irving), Charlotte Greenwood (Polly Hathaway), Reginald Denny (Jeffrey Hayward), Cliff Edwards (Bellhop), Dorothy Christy (Angelica Embrey), Joan Peers (Nita Leslie), Sally Eilers (Virginia Embrey), Natalie Moorhead (Leila Crofton), Edward Brophy (Detective), Walter Merrill (Frederick Leslie), Sidney Bracey (Butler).

by James Steffen

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