(director: Edward Sedgwick; screenwriters: Laurence E. Johnson/Ralph Spence/based on the plays Her Cardboard Lover by Frederick Lonsdale and Dans sa candeur naive by Jacques Deval/; cinematographer: Norbert Brodine; editor: William S. Gray; cast: Buster Keaton (Elmer E. Tuttle), Jimmy Durante (Julius J. McCracken), Irene Purcell (Patricia Alden), Polly Moran (Albine), Gilbert Roland (Tony Lagorce), Mona Maria (Nina), August Tollaire (General Bouschay), Maude Eburne (Aunt Charlotte); Runtime: 73; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Harry Rapf; Kino; 1932)

“Silent comic Buster Keaton talks and he sounds awful.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The comedy farce based on the plays Her Cardboard Lover by Frederick Lonsdale and Dans sa candeur naive by Jacques Deval were made as straight melodramas in 1927 and 1942. They all stunk, but this comedy version stunk the most. The laughs are few (if any), and the annoyance level at such crude comic antics is high. In this one, silent comic Buster Keaton talks and he sounds awful. Buster made the big mistake of giving up his independent movie career for a lucrative contract by MGM. They gave him no artistic control and the result was a series of commercially successful films that were embarrassingly wretched. Director Edward Sedgwick (“The Cameraman”)misused the comedian, whose subtle silent film humor was overtaken by the aggressively loud verbal comedy of the second-billed Jimmy Durante.

Elmer Tuttle (Buster Keaton) is an eccentric Parisian plumber and amateur inventor, who is hired by dizzy high-strung socialite Patricia Alden (Irene Purcell) to fix her shower but soon gets roped into being hired to make her supposedly married Spanish sweetheart Tony Lagorce (Gilbert Roland) jealous. Later it’s learned that Tony is a swinging bachelor playboy, who strings his Spanish girlfriend Nina (Mona Maria) along by saying he’s married to Patricia. Helping ‘The Great Stoneface’ in the deception are Patricia’s loyal maid Albine (Polly Moran) and the loudmouth chauffeur McCracken (Jimmy Durante), who recruited the plumber to work for his boss.

There is a duel between the plumber and the Spaniard, blustery scenes with a hot-tempered Tony forcing his way into Patricia’s mansion, the fickle Patricia unable to forget about the oily Spaniard whom she loves and hates, and the Spaniard’s other love conquest Nina excitedly confronting her man in the presence of Patricia and Elmer.

The slapstick comedian was out of his element doing this verbal romantic farce. It was a film that played against his strengths, and it was a crime how the studio abused their star property with such crappy films without letting him use his artistic talents to full advantage. But then again, Buster sold out for the money. He learned the hard way a valuable lesson, that having a desirable product is more important than becoming rich.

Buster Keaton, Jimmy Durante, and Polly Moran in The Passionate Plumber (1932)

REVIEWED ON 10/27/2011 GRADE: C-