When you hear the name Buster Keaton, you tend to think of his legendary silent films. After all, his silent films are some of the ABSOLUTE best films ever made. The General, Steamboat Bill, Jr, The Cameraman… the list goes on and on – with each film as perfect as the last.
However, make absolutely no mistake about it, Buster Keaton made some outstanding “talkies” as well. One of my personal favorites is The Passionate Plumber (1932). While this film was not my first Buster Keaton film, it was my first Jimmy Durante film. So, while I knew what delicious antics to expect from Buster, I wasn’t prepared for how much I’d love Durante- the two of them, together, were almost more than my funny bone could stand.
It seems odd to confess it, now, but before The Passionate Plumber, all I knew about Durante was from cartoons I’d seen “him” appear in. I knew he had a trademark “snicker” and a distinguished nose. That was it.
Both make iconic appearances in this film by the way.
Plot: Buster Keaton plays Elmer Tuttle, a plumber who is summoned by a socialite named Patricia (Irene Purcell) to fix her shower. True to a Buster Keaton character’s form, our hero ends up falling in love with her!
Problem is, she already has a boyfriend… and a jealous one, at that. Jimmy Durante is beyond perfect as his bungling sidekick. The wonderful Polly Moran also appears in this outrageously fun romp as the socialite’s maid and object of Durante’s affection.
- The Passionate Plumber was the first time MGM paired comedic giants Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante. They would also be paired in Speak Easily (1932) and What-No Beer? (1933).
An article in The Hollywood Reporter stated that Robert Montgomery was originally cast as the lead in August 1931 but was replaced with Buster Keaton the following month. Ironically, Robert Montgomery and Buster Keaton are two of my absolute favorite actors – so I was destined to love this film either way!
Irene Purcell, primarily a stage actress (and it’s apparent in her films) only appeared in 6 feature Hollywood films. She is best known for this role and as Robert Montgomery’s leading lady in The Man in Possession in 1931.
Irene Purcell and Buster Keaton
When I first saw The Passionate Plumber, I borderline hated the casting of Patricia. Irene Purcell was obviously meant for the stage and her entire performance screams this fact. (Speaking of which, there is a scene where she shrieks and screams at Buster Keaton’s Elmer and I’m pretty sure it would frighten the hair off of most cats.) In fact, after watching the movie for the first time, I even thought, “If it weren’t for Irene Purcell, this would be such a wonderful little movie.” I couldn’t believe that the same people who cast Buster Keaton, Jimmy Durante, and Polly Moran chose an actress who was so completely a polar opposite.
However… when I watched it recently, for the second time, I came away with a different view. “.. (they) chose an actress who was so completely a polar opposite….” – it was either luck or pure brilliance. After all, Elmer (Keaton), Julius (Durante), and Albine (Moran) are working class characters… and not necessarily at the head of the class lmao – whereas Patricia (Purcell) doesn’t even have to get her own glass of water.
She IS their polar opposite.
Would those in charge of casting realize that a stage actress without much film experience would, in fact, come across as a stage actress – rather snooty and not off-the-charts likable? For an average film situation, I’d say it’s “very possible.” For one in which Buster Keaton is involved and could, at any time, influence decisions.. I say it’s “very probable.”
Either way, this film (primarily Irene Purcell’s role in this film) is a classic example of why I ALWAYS say, “If you don’t like a particular film or star… give them another chance.” Heck, give them two or three more chances, at least.
Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante
As I often say with my reviews, I like to keep them sort, sweet, and to the point. Why?? So you won’t spend time reading how much I like it when you could be spending it finding out for yourself!
Speaking of which, the film in its entirety is below. Not time like the present for a Buster Keaton movie, I always say…
The Passionate Plumber Poster is available on Amazon. It’s a must-have for Buster Keaton, Polly Moran, or Jimmy Durante collectors.
Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante