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.