The Passionate Plumber

Take a quintessentially romantic city like Paris, add the comic wonders of Buster Keaton, pour a healthy amount of pre-code elements, and what do you get? A delicious serving of the 1932 film known as The Passionate Plumber.

Our story features Keaton as a beret-wearing plumber (and part-time ambitious inventor) by the name of Elmer E. Tuttle, who falls head-over-heels in love with socialite Patricia Alden (Irene Purcell). With The Passionate Plumber being a pre-code film and all, you can bet there are a number of instances both subtle and brazen enough to induce various levels of blushing. However, before we begin, we must make sure that we have the necessary materials for this little pre-code shindig:

Keeping the theme in mind, I wanted to try and identify as many things as I could that were likely to have slipped past my head at one point—which, I might add, never fails to happen since I have the unfeigned innocence of a loaf of bread. By the time I’d finished re-watching the film, I had an entire list of scenes and quips to consider. Good grief. I also want to clarify that the following snippets will be a touch out of order, just like my brain.

To start off, when Elmer is first called into Patricia’s home to fix the shower, the maid (Polly Moran) confronts him after he picks up a tool that accidentally lifts the hem of her skirt. “So, you’re that kind of a guy, huh?”

Elmer, at one point, finds himself preparing for a duel against Patricia’s lover, Tony (Gilbert Roland). Being new to this whole dueling thing, Elmer asks if he “has to undress”—the cape, that is. While we’re still on that note, Elmer gets into a little car accident after trying to run away from a mob at the casino. He immediately visits Patricia and she coddles him, asking if he’s hurt. His response: “I won’t know until I take my clothes off.” I think I may need to upgrade to a mechanical fan.

With no evening attire of his own, Elmer devises a clever ruse to get inside the casino. However, he eventually gets chased by the suspicious bouncer. As Elmer hides by a potted plant, he is approached by a dangling spider, which he tries to wave away. A couple is standing next to him, and Elmer thinks that the spider has landed on the woman’s shoulder (keep in mind her back is faced towards the audience), when, really, it is only a brooch. Alarmed, he swipes at it anyway, and accidentally breaks off her strap.

Patricia runs into Elmer at the casino, taking hold of his arm in an attempt to make Tony jealous. She leads him to a crowded table, and asks if he “would like to play with her.” Elmer responds with a bewildered expression, but she replies, “Baccarat, of course!”

Almost all throughout the film, Patricia begs Elmer to keep her from going back to her lover, and demands him to do whatever he can in Tony’s presence. So, what does Elmer do? He gives her a passionate kiss, which ends up leading them both to the floor. When that doesn’t help prevent Patricia from crawling back to Tony, Elmer physically takes her away by lifting her up bridal style, and proceeds to carry her into her bedroom.

On another one of his visits, Tony discovers Elmer walking out of Patricia’s bathroom in her pajamas, which shocks even Patricia herself. Elmer, unfazed, walks nonchalantly over to her closet, takes out a black nightgown, and lays it on the bed for her. Patricia can’t handle Elmer’s presence anymore, and she desperately tries to get rid of him. Sworn to help Patricia, he won’t budge, saying, “Perhaps you might want me again.” Now, if she can’t get rid of him, Patricia tries to take the escape route. She heads for the door, but he beats her to it, slamming it and then blocking her way. Out of context, this would seem pretty darn pre-code. Patricia finally gives up, tired of it all and wanting to go to sleep. She starts to undress right in front of Elmer, but he rushes forward to try and keep the hem down. In perfect timing, the maid walks in and thinks otherwise of the situation happening in front of her. Eeeek.

When Patricia’s prissy aunt makes a surprise visit, Elmer tries to get himself out of trouble by claiming he’s Patricia’s doctor. Worried about her niece, she demands that he examines Patricia thoroughly. At this, Patricia is horrified. Elmer is apprehensive and does whatever he can to hinder or avoid it. By taking his plumbing tools and making a stethoscope, he finds that it (obviously) doesn’t provide any results, and ends up resting an ear to her chest that may have lingered there a little too long for Patricia’s liking. She fidgets and twists Elmer’s ear to get him away.

During the scene where Elmer is busy fiddling with the shower, Tony returns to Patricia, but finds that there is another man in the bathroom. Meanwhile, Elmer is suddenly drenched from standing directly underneath the shower head, and has to resort to wearing nothing but a towel. Of course, Tony doesn’t see it like this, and so the start of a glove-slapping war takes place. Having no gloves of his own to hit Tony back with, Elmer uses his towel. Patricia’s shriek is heard off-screen, and I think we can garner what that means.

Okay, that’s enough for one post. If I missed anything else, it’s probably because I was passing in and out of unconsciousness. Now, if I can only get my hands on the film’s French counterpart, Le plombier amoureux, I may actually faint.

This is my contribution to the Hot and Bothered: The Films of 1932 Blogathon, hosted by CineMaven’s Essays From the Couch and Once Upon A Screen. To read more steamy pre-code entries, click here.

10 thoughts on “The Passionate Plumber

  1. Hi…thanks for bringing Buster Keaton into the pre~code fray as “The Passionate Plumber.” I’m truly not familiar with Keaton’s work. No time like the present to learn. Thanks for participating in our Hot & Bothered Blogathon. 1932 is looking mighty good.

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  2. This was Buster’s second MGM talkie I’ve seen after Free and Easy and I have to admit that I actually enjoyed the first half of it – the second became a bit boring and tiresome after some time. Now that you pointed out all of its “Pre-Code” features, it seems to me that to some extent this movie might have been of parody of “Pre-Code” clichés because nothing really “Pre-Code” happens here, but it looks like it all the time :)

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    • I know what you mean! Sometimes I can’t stand how abrupt the endings feel to me, especially.

      Good point! I was so focused on picking them out that the notion didn’t even occur to me. Perhaps nothing quite so shocking enough to make a monocle fall from someone’s face, but I still can’t help but raise an eyebrow at some of them, nonetheless!

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  3. This looks like a hoot! I am not very familiar with Keaton’s work (other than appearances in later movies like GOOD OLD SUMMER TIME). This film would be a good place to start.

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  4. TPP is the only MGM BK talkie I like. At least here Buster is allowed to play a (mostly) competent character instead of a moron as he was forced to in nightmares like Free and Easy. Great review!

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