Hot Water (1924): Harold Lloyd’s Thanksgiving-ish Comedy I Didn’t Know I Needed

Let’s play a game…What comes to mind when you think of turkeys, mother-in-laws, and car rides? For Americans there is only one answer – Thanksgiving.

In Hot Water, Harold Lloyd does battle with the three trappings that come with the iconic holiday. Although it’s never stated that this is the film’s setting, in my mind it is a match made in the cinematic heavens – so much so that Hot Water should be as essential to the classic film fan’s Thanksgiving celebration as pumpkin pie.

My path into silent film began with Charlie Chaplin, Metropolis (1927), Buster Keaton, and then curiosity struck me (in the form of a blogathon) as to who this fellow Harold Lloyd was. Next thing I know, I’m in Hot Water and instant love with the plucky comedian who donned horn rimmed glasses and a warm, friendly smile.

Hot Water unfolds in an episodic fashion with each of the segments being able to stand on its own, while also fitting surprisingly well into the overall narrative. Harold Lloyd thought he could release the segments separately as two-reelers if the film was not successful.

Spoiler alert: He needn’t have worried! The film was loved by both critics and audiences and tied for fourth place with Girl Shy for most popular film of 1924 with Hot Water inching slightly ahead at the box office.

It all begins when Harold is taken by surprise by a pair of “soft-boiled” eyes, those of Jobyna Ralston, Lloyd’s leading lady of six films. Next we see Harold, he is picking up groceries – a clear indication he’s tied the knot – for Wifey (Ralston) which leads him to an encounter with a live turkey. Off on a streetcar he goes with too many bundles to carry, plus that troublesome turkey…

Domestic bliss is quickly interrupted by a visit from the insufferable in-laws, Wifey’s mother (Josephine Crowell) and two brothers (Charles Stevenson, Mackey McBan).

Crowell is the ultimate embodiment of a bossy mother-in-law. Imposing and judgmental, her curmudgeonly ways make us feel for poor Harold as he can’t even be comfortable in his own home (especially after his exhausting trip home on a crowded streetcar – not to mention the turkey).

Crowell’s expressive face says so much with a side glance or a scowl and I particularly love when she deviously, but hilariously, plays on Harold’s fears as the film goes on.

On the other hand, Wifey is sweet and loving as could be, though she does give Harold some grief with her mile long grocery list. Ralston has such lovely chemistry with Lloyd and the adoration they feel for each other is evident, leading to a very funny car ride scene in their brand new “Butterfly 6.” Harold, so overcome by love, takes his eyes off the road, only to leave them on Wifey and the car is left to navigate the road on its own. You can imagine what happens next.

The third segment of Hot Water is when everything goes off the rails and is, more or less, a screwball comedy. Not to give it all away but it includes chloroform, sleep walking, and priceless pantomime from a guilt ridden and fear stricken Harold who wrongly assumes he’s killed his mother-in-law.

While Hot Water was released during the golden years of Harold Lloyd’s career, today the film is not as respected by historians as his other output, although at showings it is eaten up by audiences. One of the reasons could be because of the formatting and the lack of a strong storyline since it is primarily a “gag picture.” However, the strength of this film lies in doing just that – providing gags from beginning to end that build on themselves sequentially, leaving the audience roaring with laughter that the concept of a storyline becomes a distant memory as much as a troublesome necessity.

 

A New York Times critic from 1924 summed the film up like this:

“Hilarity is rife in Harold Lloyd’s new picture . . . Although this production is not as subtle as ‘Girl Shy,’ it has a fund of original and ludicrous ideas, which as they are worked out defy one to keep a straight face even when the action drops to nonsensical depths. Humor is cleverly coupled with the absurd, and as the later may appear while one is still bubbling with merriment at the former, it is apt to inspire a fresh explosion of mirth, because of the utterly ridiculous situations in which Mr. Lloyd as a young husband becomes involved. Hence this hilarious contribution probably will cause as much mental sunshine as ‘Girl Shy’.”

Since viewing Hot Water I’ve seen other Harold Lloyd films, including Girl Shy. It will be interesting to see if things change over time, but for right now Hot Water holds a special place in my heart, and sticking with my theme, I’m grateful for the “mental sunshine” that it and Harold have brought me.

What is your favorite Harold Lloyd film? And how are you celebrating the inauguration of National Silent Movie Day?

This post is my contribution to The Silent Film Day Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Silent-ology given in honor of the first ever National Silent Movie Day, September 29, 2021! Thank you for having me, ladies! Check out this page for more silent film goodness.

14 thoughts on “Hot Water (1924): Harold Lloyd’s Thanksgiving-ish Comedy I Didn’t Know I Needed

  1. Your wonderful look at Hot Water is so enjoyable. I love your affection for the movie. It certainly stands on its own and doesn’t need to be compared to any other movies (Harold’s or not).

    I enjoy all of Harold’s movies but if I had to choose one favourite (Oh, my!) I suppose it would be Speedy as the one I have seen most often.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Paddy, that’s so kind of you to say and I’m very glad you enjoyed! I think I could watch the gif of Harold walking the turkey all day, it just tickles my funny bone to no end. I will be on the lookout for Speedy! Thanks for sharing your favorite with me and for the lovely comment 🙂

      Like

  2. Unfortunately, I haven’t developed an appreciation for silent movies yet…I adore the “love story” scenes in City Lights, and I like Modern Times – but those are the only ones I truly enjoyed out of the few I’ve tried so far. I guess I’m too much of a dialogue girl. 🙂

    But I do agree that “mental sunshine” is a necessary, good thing. 🙂 (I’d never heard that phrase before. I love it!)

    By the way, I came across another new-to-me Peter Lawford film: The Picture of Dorian Gray. 😀 His part was small, but important – and he was a cross between “lovesick puppy” Peter and “clever / shrewd” Peter. (He does some off-screen detective work that gets relayed in a large chunk of exposition. I would’ve loved to see “sleuth Peter” in action instead!) And this was even pre Good News, so he’s quite young (almost baby-faced!) – and he was getting to display that “clever / shrewd” side in films much earlier than I thought! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those are wonderful silent films, Jillian! 🙂 Sometimes I think it’s just a matter of finding the right story that clicks with you. It’s taken me a while to get around to the silents, but the comedians have certainly won me over and make me want to keep exploring that time in film.

      Isn’t “mental sunshine” such a lovely phrase? So kind of the critic from 1924 to let me borrow it 🙂 and I’m so pleased you like it!

      Oh, I’m glad you discovered “The Picture of Dorian Gray!” I have plans to re-watch it soon as I really enjoyed my first viewing! Wow, I almost forgot Peter was even in that movie. He really got around, didn’t he? MGM kept him pretty busy!

      Let me know if you ever get a chance to see the film Peter did with Esther Williams, On an Island With You. It’s not the best for either of them by any means, but it’s still entertaining and there are some gorgeous dance numbers with Cyd Charisse and Ricardo Montalban.

      Thank you for reading, Jillian! 🙂 Hope you are having a great weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve always liked episodic comedies myself, there’s something relaxing about just enjoying the gags as they come. This would pair really well with the short PASS THE GRAVY for Thanksgiving viewing with the family! Thanks for covering it for our blogathon, much appreciated!

    Liked by 1 person

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