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Hot Water
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by Jay Seaver

"Almost a domestic sketch movie."
3 stars

Anyone who has watched movies for a while and picked up trivia likely knows about reel changes, and the "cigarette burns" that signal them. Before platter systems became popular, most theaters had two projectors per screen, which the projectionist would manually alternate between, cuing up one 10-15 minute reel of film while the other played. I often wonder, when watching silent comedies like "Hot Water", whether most theaters at the time only had one projector, resulting in there being something akin to a commercial break between reels as the projectionist readied the next one. Not just because I've seen intertitle cards with "Part 3" on other features, but because some silents (such as this one) seem so MODULAR.

By "modular", I mean that even though there's something of a through line to the entire movie, each reel really seems to be doing its own thing, and could easily be watched as an individual short or spread out over multiple showings as parts of a serial and still be relatively complete experiences. After a brief prelude where a groom's best man (Harold Lloyd) comments to his friend that he'll never get the single life - and is immediately brought down by Jobyna Ralston's "soft-boiled eyes", we flash forward to a few years later, when "Hubby" and "Wifey" get a surprise visit from her busybody mother (Josephine Crowell), layabout big brother (Charles Stevenson), and destructive little brother (Mickey McBan). What follows are a few quick vignettes, including Hubby trying to get home on a cable car with a live turkey, a disastrous first trip in the couple's new automobile, and a peculiar family dinner and its aftermath: Hubby chloroforms his mother-in-law, believes he has accidentally killed her, and that he is being haunted when she is merely sleepwalking.

Each of those bits is funny, although in some cases they're not really suited to the silent format: Much of the last act, for instance, is keyed off partially-overheard statements - which are awkward enough when the audio matches the video, and tend to become even more so when delivered as intertitles. The set-up for some of the skits is more than a bit contrived, as in "no, really, that's not absurd-funny, that's absurd-desperate". And a movie that lasts just sixty minutes can't really afford to have the audience questioning it at any point.

What the movie does have, though, is some fine vehicular mayhem. Watching automobile-based scenes from eighty years ago is instructive; there are some peculiar traffic laws and enforcement. Like, police officers standing on little elevated platforms in the middle of busy intersections to direct traffic, or the apparent lack of need for a license. Which means Harold takes his new car out without having any idea of how to really use it well, and that's on top of having a mother-in-law for whom correcting her son-in-law is a reflex action, no matter how little actual knowledge she has on the subject. Thus, one can reasonably expect encounters with the police, near misses as Harold drives between speeding vehicles, and plenty of damage to the pristine new car. It's some pretty impressive stunt driving, even if some parts were obviously shot at a low frame rate and then sped up for exhibition.

The turkey-on-the-streetcar segment is amusing, too, even if it rests on some flimsy foundations (would a grocery shop really give away a live turkey?) and shaky continuity, what with Harold's grocery packages and even the turkey seeming to disappear and return depending on how much the immediate gag needs them. Still, I imagine it's featured material during whatever course at comedy college teaches taking just long enough to react to something for the actual perpetrator to move out of sight.

I imagine that even in 1924, a lot of Hot Water's gags were kind of tired, even with Harold Lloyd to sell them, with Jobyna Ralston doing her usual job as straight woman (she may be the prettiest of Lloyd's leading ladies, but Marion Davies and the women who followed Ms. Ralston were generally funnier). Charles Stevenson, who appears in several Lloyd films, is amusing as the unambitious older brother, and Josephine Crowell gives a mother-in-law-from-Hell performance that many later middle-aged-actresses have likely cribbed from.

In later generations, this movie's segments could play as separate episodes of a TV series and not suffer much from the transition at all. It's short, kind of familiar but also fairly funny.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12467&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/10/05 12:05:04
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User Comments

10/08/15 Hunter Hale Better than what passes for visual comedy today! 4 stars
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