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The Passionate Plumber

Release date: February 6, 1932
Length: 73 minutes
A Buster Keaton Production
Distributed by: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Executive Producer: Harry Rapf (uncredited)
Director: Edward Sedgwick
Adaptation: Laurence E. Johnston, from the play Her Cardboard Lover by Jacques Deval
Dialogue: Ralph Spence
Photography: Norbert Brodine
Editor: William S. Gray
Art Director: Cedric Gibbons
Recording Engineer: Douglas Shearer

Cast:
Buster Keaton: Elmer Tuttle
Jimmy Durante: Julius McCracken
Irene Purcell: Patricia Alden
Polly Moran: Albine
Gilbert Roland: Tony Lagorce
Mona Maris: Nina Estrada
Maude Eburne: Aunt Charlotte
Henry Armetta: Bouncer
Paul Porcasi: Paul Le Maire
Jean Del Val: Chauffeur
August Tollaire: General Bouschay
Edward Brophy: Pedestrian

 

In Paris, McCracken goes into a plumber’s shop. He finds Elmer in the back room, hard at work fixing his cigarette lighter. Elmer shows off his new invention, the spot shot pistol -- a gun with a light on it. He wants the French army to adopt it. McCracken asks him to come fix the leak in Mademoiselle Patricia’s bathroom. After a few complaints, he agrees.

Patricia arrives at her apartment, and tells her maid Albine that her married lover Tony has spotted her. His wife Nina won’t give him a divorce, and Patricia can’t decide: does she want to be rid of him? When the bell rings, she hides, thinking that it’s Tony. It’s only Elmer and McCracken. Elmer goes upstairs to fix the shower and McCracken goes to the kitchen to shut off the water, agreeing to turn it on when Elmer thumps the wall. Tony arrives and Patricia hides again in the bedroom. He bursts in and they fight, knocking over a vase. McCracken mistakes the noise for Elmer’s signal, and he turns the water on, dousing Elmer. Patricia and Tony continue to spar, until Tony hears something in the bathroom. He knocks and Elmer comes out, naked except for a towel around his middle. Tony assumes he’s Patricia’s lover, so he challenges him to a dual by slapping him with his gloves. Elmer slaps him with his towel, and Patricia screams.

Tony and his seconds pull into the rural dueling grounds in two grand automobiles. McCraken and Elmer arrive in a jalopy. After all concerned repeatedly tip their hats to each other, the seconds discuss weapons. Tony prefers swords while Elmer wants pistols. Elmer offers to use a pistol while Tony uses a sword, but they settle on pistols after an argument. They take off their caps and begin by standing back to back. Tony paces, but Elmer follows him instead of pacing away. Tony threatens to kill him twice if he doesn’t do it right. They begin again, but a hunter shoots over them and everyone scatters. Elmer hits his head on a tree branch and gets knocked out. Patricia arrives and runs to Tony, but he’s all right. She sees Elmer and calls Tony a murderer. She goes to him and takes him in her arms, crooning “You’re too young to die.” He wakes up and stares at her, enraptured. When she sees he’s all right, she dumps him.

Later, Tony comes into Nina’s place. He tells her he hasn’t been with his “wife” Patricia (who won’t give him a divorce), he’s been on business. A passionate Spaniard, she yells and throws things, including a knife. She says it shows how much she loves him.

At the Casino de Paris, Elmer and McCraken notice Patricia as she goes in. They’re outside waiting for General Bouschay. He gets there, and Elmer tries to sell him his spot shot gun. It goes off accidentally, and they run away when guards stream out of the casino. McCraken explains that the guards are looking for a suicide victim. Whenever they find one, they stuff money in his pockets so people won’t think that he killed himself over gambling debts. Elmer tries to go into the casino, but he’s refused entry because he isn’t wearing evening clothes. He fakes his own suicide, and the guards put a wad of bills in his pocket.

Inside the casino lounge, Patricia waits for Tony. As he goes to her, Nina intercepts him. She has a tantrum and throws more breakables. She leaves for the theater. Tony meets Patricia, and she tells him to leave her because she has someone else. Meanwhile, Elmer comes in. The mothballs from his dress suit land on the roulette wheel, causing confusion. He strolls to the lounge where Patricia grabs him. She takes him to the moonlight veranda and says sweet things to him for Tony’s benefit – he’s listening. When Tony leaves, she dismisses Elmer, but Tony catches her so she must grab Elmer again. They try to play baccarat, but Elmer makes a mess and gets challenged to duels. General Bouschay comes over and Elmer tries to show him the gun again, but it goes off and he gets chased outside. He wreaks the car he steals.

Elmer goes to Patricia’s apartment, where he learns that it was her car. Since he can’t pay for it, he agrees to stand between her and Tony. She fears her Aunt Charlotte, who would never approve of her seeing a married man. Tony arrives and says that if she doesn’t leave with him that night, she’ll never see him again. She agrees to go, but Elmer won’t let her. Tony storms off. Patricia tries to follow, but Elmer locks her in her room and stands guard outside the door.

The next morning, Elmer wheels her breakfast in and makes a mess of the coffee and eggs. She sends him to walk Fifi, her tiny white dog. After dressing, she tries to escape in her car but Elmer and Fifi are on the running board. He climbs in. She stops at the beauty parlor and tells him to get Fifi her dinner across the street. Instead he follows her into the beautician’s, but a crowd of women throws him out. Patricia escapes out the back.

At her apartment, Patricia apologizes to Tony. He says that if he stays, it will only be on his terms. They reconcile; nothing will come between them. They hear gargling. Elmer comes out of the bathroom, dressed in silk pajamas. He says he lives there. Tony leaves. Patricia locks Elmer in the bathroom, where he quickly dresses, then climbs out the window and into the hallway. He stops her from going to Tony.

Aunt Charlotte arrives to find “doctor” Elmer checking Patricia’s pulse. He fakes doctor’s instruments by using his plumbing equipment. Threatened with the display of Charlotte’s operation scar, he runs downstairs. Charlotte leaves. Elmer goes upstairs to discover the real Charlotte in bed: Patricia stole her clothes and left. Elmer and McCraken call Tony and tell him to come over. Nina arrives, and Elmer tells her that she can get Tony back by pretending to keep company with him. Patricia comes in, and she and Nina learn that Tony isn’t married to either one of them. Elmer steps into the middle of their fight. Tony rings the bell, and Elmer hides the women. Tony comes in, and Elmer tells him that he’s leaving Patricia, so Tony can have her. Elmer asks about Nina, and Tony calls her the type you find, fondle, and forget. Elmer asks if he likes fireworks. Tony says yes. Elmer fetches Nina and Patricia, and they throw all available breakables at him. Elmer supplies more. Tony runs to the door, but Nina goes after him. She says “Can’t you see how much I love you” and they leave. Elmer picks up his beret and gets ready to go, but Patricia heaves a book at him and says “Can’t you see how much I love you?” In the kitchen, McCracken says the same to Albine, but his nose gets in the way of their kiss. — Lisle Foote