Sunday, July 4, 2021

Spray of Glory: The Seltzer Bottle

The knockabout comedians smacked, shoved and kicked one another on stage.  Many entered the fray with weapons.  The slap stick.  The bladder.  And, as we will discuss today, the seltzer bottle.  

In 1917, a Photoplay writer referred to knockabout comedy as "slapstick savagery."  He agreed with Henri Bergson, a metaphysician who insisted that "the cause of all primitive laughter was the suffering or discomfiture of another human being."  He wrote:

We once saw Fred Mace impaled upon a picket fence, stuck in a chimney, choked in a bathtub, suffocated in a trunk, drawn under an automobile, whacked by a railway train, tipped out of a balloon, trimmed by a Jane, shot at the front, kicked at the stern, cracked with an axe, pasted with pie, soused with seltzer, petted by a bottle, urged by a blacksnake and cajoled by the talons of a mimic wife — as we say, we saw this, and, between our chortlings of deep grief, we had an advance vision of the Bergson idea all our own.

It might disturb some people to witness a man being choked or impaled, but even a person squeamish at the sight of violence is likely to laugh at a man being sprayed in the face with water.  Unlike a gaping wound or a crushed larynx, a wet face is never more than a silly discomfort.  The first comedy film, L'Arroseur Arrosé (1895), was centered on this very sort of discomfort.  A gardener doesn't realize that water isn't coming out of his hose because a boy has furtively pressed his foot down on the hose.  As the gardener looks into the nozzle, the boy lifts his foot off the hose, causing the flow of water to resume and the gardener to get blasted in the face with water.

And comedians still rely on the hose for laughs today. 

La cheminée fume (1907, Pathé Frères)

Salute (1925)

The Toast of New York (1937)

Curse of the Pink Panther (1983)

Watery assaults of many different types have made audiences laugh for decades.  Take, for instance, Calino arroseur public (1910).  The film begins with a drunken man (Clément Mégé) falling asleep at a drinking fountain.  A pair of mischievous kids use a rope to bind the man to the fountain.  When the man awakens and struggles to free himself, he uproots the fountain from its base and remains with the fountain strapped to his chest as it ejects an inexhaustible stream of water at passersby.  

It is simple: wet is funny.  

Boat leak humor could be fairly wet business.

A Ducking They Did Go (1939)

Squirty aquatic creatures could bring a great deal of moisture to a scene.

A Ducking They Did Go (1939)

Dennis the Menace Strikes Again (1998)

But, perhaps, the wettest of all was the plumber routines.

The Plumber (1914)

La paura degli aeromobili nemici (1915)

Gossipy Plumber (1931)

A Plumbing We Will Go (1940)

Larceny, Inc. (1942)

Abbott and Costello In Society (1944)

The Pink Panther (2006)

Let's look at a few other examples of wet comedy.

André Deed spends much of The Fear of Zeppelins (1915) getting wet.  Here are the highlights.

Hoses, fountains and sprinklers are not conveniently available to a comedian.  Something more portable was needed for this sort of comedy to flourish. 

The seltzer bottle obtained its spray nozzle in the early 1800s.  A good comedian routinely appraises new objects for their laugh potential.  It couldn't have been long before a comedian found a use for a handy water-spraying device.

In 1905, Phil McFarland and Mike McDonald, who performed an Irish and German character act, made use of seltzer bottle in an act that The New York Clipper described as "a ludicrous luncheon scene."  If you saw a comedy show in 1905, no matter if you were in New York, Chicago or Cincinnati, it would not be unusual to see a comedian stroll on stage with a seltzer bottle.  The prop was just that common.  Critics complained at the time about seeing the seltzer bottle too often.  They referred to the typical seltzer bottle business as "decrepit," "obsolete," "old school," and "a wheeze."

Let's look at Variety reviews from this period.  (You can skip ahead if you have no interest in getting neck-deep in the subject.)

Variety (1906) Pastor's. 

George and Georgie, a man and a boy dressed as a girl, did some acrobatics from the bounding net stretched over a billiard table, the boy concluding with twenty-five consecutive somersaults.  Nothing original was done, even the opening, where the man employs a seltzer bottle, being a copy.

Variety (1906) James L. Sullivan and Company performed a sketch called "The Susceptible Dr. Schmalz" at the Twenty-third Street Theatre.   

After an absence on the other side James E. Sullivan comes into vaudeville with a farcial sketch. . . To those unfamiliar with the humor of a seltzer bottle, or the fun that may be seen in a man standing on his head under threat of a horsewhipping, the act will prove amusing. . .

Variety (1906) 

Ali, Hunter and Ali are giving too much attention to comedy.  The tumbling should be given more play.  The boxing does not amuse every one, and the seltzer bottle with a fly-paper annex is not in the modern school of humor.

Variety (1907) 

A big hit is the musical act of Binns, Binns and Binns. They have carried the seltzer bottle and other forgotten bits of comedy to such a length that they are again laughable.

Variety (1907) Sid J. Euson Theatre.  

Those who first witnessed the [Harry] Bryant Show early, and again at Euson's this week, found very little change and much less to commend. The surplus of decrepit material and irksome incidents with neither excuse nor reason for their existence were not palatable even in the regime of primitive burlesque. . . The burlesque section is prominent for the conspicuousness of the slapstick, bladder and seltzer bottle, with additional resurrected remarks and situations bordering on vulgarism.

Variety (1907) The Standard Theatre, Cincinnati.

Phil Sheridan's "City Sports' is not up to the standard, but is more of the seltzer-water, bladder, slap-stick and rubber-hand order.

Variety (1907) People's Theatre, Cincinnati.  "Champagne Girls." 

The company offers two burlesques of the ordinary kind and no originality. The seltzer water bottle and the "cooche" are employed.
 Variety (1907) Sid J. Euson's Theatre, Chicago.  
The throwing of bread and missiles at the dining table is not funny but "rough house" waste of time.  It could be at least modified. . . It would be beyond reason to believe that the ever familiar seltzer bottle, intolerable "imaginary" talk and vulgar expectorating on the stage are a part of the play. . . Many good opportunities are overlooked or even spoiled in the decrepit material and incompetent handling of the lines.

Variety (1907) Six Brothers Luck.  

The inflated bladder, seltzer syphon and slapstick have been relegated to obscurity and long since thrown out of burlesque over here, and only our visiting British cousins have the courage to bring them forth again. . . Shaun Glenville Luck makes a capital grotesque comedian and might, under more kindly circumstances, be really funny, but the seltzer-bottle-bladder-slapstick mess that makes up "The Demon in the Cellar" leaves him stranded.

Variety (1908) 

Artists should aim toward refinement, cleanliness and dignity.  The time of double meanings, vulgarity and the seltzer-bottle comedy has long since passed.

Variety (1908) Lonesome Town.  

Besides this passé dialogue and obsolete "knockabout," "Lonesome Town" has a slight touch of the "seltzer bottle" during the second act, and the only thing missing from the old-time burlesque shows is the "slapstick" with the chorus girls. . . [I]t sounded like old times again to hear Mr. Dillon remark to a woman he asked for a kiss when she said, "I don't know you," "Well, 1 don't know you either, so I am taking as many chances as you are."

Variety (1908) Colonial Theatre.  

Binns, Binns and Binns appear after their European trip with their musical absurdity unchanged.  If they do use the seltzer bottle they at least give it a new twist that makes it amusing, and their comedy material is a succession of solid laughs.

Variety (1909) 

The Reddal Troupe of acrobats is perhaps the only act in the world which cannot secure a laugh with a seltzer bottle.  Last week at the Palace Camberwell, where the act put over some of the most awful slapstick stuff, they flopped completely on the siphon bit.

Variety (1909) Columbia Theatre.  

The bill proper is a first-class one for the house.  Ali, Hunter and Ali get the large type and at the Columbia they deserve it.  They overlook nothing in their rough comedy efforts.  The seltzer bottle leads, with the fly paper pushing it hard, the lemon pie gets to the front a couple of times and the slapstick is always in readiness to take up the running when the others begin to lag.  At the finish for about a minute the two men in the act do some capital tumbling.  A straight acrobatic act with just the two men employed would perhaps get them further than the present offering, which is a "riot" in Brooklyn.

Variety (1910) Hammerstein's Roof.  

"School Boys and Girls" were way down too far, but even so, there is too much "Follies" in the act at present to ever send it over strong around 42d Street.  Lilliam Gohn had to dive from the stage into the arms of a man in the front orchestra row for one encore, and the drummer used a seltzer bottle for another.

Variety (1910) "The Rector Girls." 

The bits, all familiar, follow each other in rapid succession.  Sometimes without even a number between.  Nothing has been omitted in the quest for laughs.  The "bladder" and "seltzer bottle" have been revived, "the undertaker," "the waiter who drinks and wipes the comedian's mouth," "the duel," "shooting at the target off stage," and others.

Variety (1911) "World of Pleasure." 

The comedy comes more from situations than from business.  It is mostly of the quieter sort and the way the audience fell for the clean stuff should convince many of the "Old School" that perhaps there is something to laugh at in other things besides the bladder, seltzer bottle, et al.

Variety (1911) J. Arthur O'Brien and Co. Murray Hill Theatre.  

Mr. O'Brien and Co. for a moment looked as though they were going to present a real interesting little story, but in three minutes it developed into an affair as rough as the one that was done for years by the Fitzgibbons-McCoy Trio.  A former husband calls on the wife of a fellow who is angry about it.  The present husband roughs the other fellow, sparing nothing.  The seltzer bottle is used freely.  The lines amount to nothing.  It made the Murray Hill audience rock with laughter and it probably could do likewise in any small house.

Variety (1912) Jefferson De Angelis and Co.  Majestic. 

If "All at Sea" is a sample of vaudeville progressiveness, it's going back.  Some of the wheezes in the De Angelis offering, particularly those which require the accompaniment of an axe and a seltzer bottle, belong in the ten-a-day picture houses. "Hokum" is considered the last resort for a star.  De Angelis has plenty of it in "All at Sea."

Variety (1913)   

All Miner's "Big Frolic" lacks in the first part is the bladder. It has about everything else, down to a seltzer bottle.

Variety (1914) (Satire) 

[The company] kept the audience in roars of laughter with their original comedy sketch, where the husband comes home intoxicated and throws flour in his wife's face.  The finish, where she squirts a seltzer bottle at him, earned them a half a dozen curtain bows.

Variety (1914) 

At the Murray Hill they seem to prefer the old seltzer bottle brand to the higher grade, but nevertheless Miss [Ida] Brayton struck a responsive chord and registered well.

Film comedians also made use of the seltzer bottle.  

An 1899 French film, La Bonne Absinthe, features the earliest known rendition of the seltzer bottle gag on film.  The film moves quickly through a simple scene, which the filmmaker establishes and resolves in a scant 56 seconds.  An understanding of the action requires knowledge of the popular late 19th Century alcoholic beverage absinthe.  One person who is familiar with absinthe is Fritzi Kramer, who covers early film history on her Movies Silently blog.  Kramer wrote: 

When someone ordered absinthe in the nineteenth century, they were provided with a dose of the alcohol in a large glass with sugar and a carafe of water to dilute it to their taste.  The café customer in Wonderful Absinthe is absentminded, distracted by his newspaper and pours his water into his hat rather than his glass thus failing to dilute his drink or dissolve any sugar.  This is what causes him to react to violently (remember, the stuff is pretty nasty undiluted) and attack the waiter.  The waiter responds by squirting the customer with a bottle of seltzer.  All in all, pretty basic slapstick stuff.

The Chess Dispute (1903) involves a pair of men playing chess in a café.  A quarrel breaks out because one of the men rearranges the pieces on the board while his opponent isn't looking.  The cheater has his nose tweaked for his treachery, but he retaliates by shooting his attacker with a seltzer bottle.

A diner takes up a seltzer bottle to spray a nosey waiter (really a detective) in Edwin S. Porter's Getting Evidence (1906, Edison). 

In First Dinner at Father-in-Law's (1908), a man gets drunk at a dinner party and sprays his father-in-law and fellow guests with a seltzer bottle.

A mass seltzer bottle attack occurs in A Case of Seltzer (1909).  Here is the plot summary provided by Moving Picture World:

A young dude insists upon mashing a girl who is passing and minding her own affairs.  She turns him down coldly, but he still continues to shower his attentions upon her.  Finally she breaks away from him and rushes to her home.  Her brother and some of his friends are playing cards.  She tells them of her episode, and they immediately devise a plan whereby they can give the flirt a lesson.  One of the boys dresses in the girl's clothes, and the rest of the boys each take seltzer bottles, and go to do damage to the young man's appearance.  He is still waiting when they come out and the masher thinks the boy dressed up is the girl.  He immediately pounces upon her and endeavors to force his attentions upon her.  The boys with seltzer bottles now rush upon the scene while the man in feminine attire belabors the would-be masher with a parasol.

This untitled film is unique.  A clumsy maid, who has been breaking plates, is attacked by a mob of vengeful kitchenware.  At one point, a pepper mill sprays the maid with the face with a seltzer bottle.  In the end, an egg cup leads the other kitchenware in an attempt to burn the woman at the stake.

In That Popular Tune (1910), Blinks is irritated that he keeps hearing the popular tune "Twinkling Eyes" wherever he goes.  The Film Index reports, "Blinks enters a restaurant, orders a big meal and is about to eat heartily when the orchestra merrily strikes up the [tune]. . . Blinks upsets his table and after dousing the musicians — and everyone else — with a cold spray from the seltzer bottle, angrily leaves the restaurant."

Jobard's Marriage Proposal (1911)

Moving Picture World described a seltzer bottle attack in Mrs. Sharp and Miss Flatt (1913, Crystal): 

Belmont courts the widow and her friend at the same time.  He makes excuses to one and calls on the other after promising to take the first to the theater.  Unsuspecting, she calls on her friend and finds Belmont there.  She unmasks his perfidy and he is accorded very drastic treatment, eventually getting an unsought wetting from Miss Flatt.  She gets a seltzer bottle and speedily, though viciously, brings him to his senses.

Infidelity also inspires a seltzer bottle attack in Poor Jakes's Demise (1913, Imp).  Jake catches his wife making love to another man in his own home.  He promptly throws the man out a window.  Later, when he sees the man again at a bar, he becomes infuriated and sprays him with a seltzer bottle.

The seltzer bottle became a prime symbol of mindless and overdone slapstick.  This was addressed in a 1914 editorial in Moving Picture World.

There has been altogether too much of what is known as "rough-house" and "slapstick" comedy.  The patrons are surfeited with it and the exhibitors have had more than a genteel sufficiency.  It would be well to try for a finer and somewhat cleaner vein.  We are glad to observe a tendency to follow this new direction.  A creation of comic types from life and the making of situations which rouse laughter without the fatal banana peel and the seltzer bottle mark the coming of new kinds of comic film.

The same year, William Roche wrote an op-ed piece for New York Clipper in which he denounced the use of seltzer bottles in comedy work.  The article was called "Goodbye to The Slapstick in Burlesque."  Roche wrote:

. . . [N]ow burlesque aims even higher.  It has taken it upon itself to do away with the slapstick, the seltzer bottle and other old and worn-out methods of obtaining laughs and has come to realize that the fun in burlesque must depend upon the wit of the lines, the humor of the situations and the ability of the actor to put them over.
The book of a modern burlesque show must be a book and not a foolish series of absurd and funny situations hurriedly brought forth from some actor's memory, in which the slapstick, the seltzer bottle and other things of this sort played an important part.  Audiences will no longer laugh at such humor no more than you or I care to utter loud guffaws when a joke is repeated to us for the twelfth time.
A recent study of the burlesque productions that have proved successes distinctly show that burlesque is becoming more legitimate every season.  Why, only last week, one producer had the courage to burlesque Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikaado," and throughout the burlesque much of the wit, the lyrics and practically all of the music was retained from the original opera.   It was highly appreciated — much more than the slapstick efforts of some of the low comedians who are still struggling to make fun by the slapstick-seltzer bottle route.
The burlesque audience of today is totally unlike the burlesque audience of yesterday.  And so the burlesque productions are rapidly changing to meet the requirements and the favor of these new audiences.
During the present season I have seen several of the older comedians, who in their day were looked upon as some of the most successful fun-makers of which the burlesque stage could boast, come into the Chicago Columbia, and die a slow death.  Their methods and material were a beautiful, but pathetic. . . and the audience refused to accept them.  On the other hand.  I have seen three or four of the younger generation of comedians — young men, who depend solely and only on brains and ability for their success prove a genuine riot in every sense of the word.
I don't believe many of those interested in burlesque realize the tremendous change that has taken place in this form of amusement endeavor, but those who have not yet awakened to what is happening will do well to keep pace with the times for the bell has tolled and the day of the old slapstick, seltzer bottle methods has passed.  The audience of today has already sung the funeral march.

The seltzer bottle, derided by fussy critics and rejected by jaded audiences, died a quick and quiet death.  But it did experience three revivals.  The first was the Keystone Comedy revival.  The seltzer bottle was well suited to the Keystone style.  Also, the seltzer bottle gag worked well in silent films.  You didn't have to hear a person being squirted in the face with water to find it funny.  So, the seltzer bottle turned up in many films during 1914 and 1915.  

A seltzer bottle battle breaks out at a funeral in Keystone's Among the Mourners (1914). 

Charlie Chaplin uses the seltzer bottle mercilessly on Mack Swain in Keystone's Gentleman of Nerve (1914).

The infidelity theme continued with They Didn't Know (1914, Crystal).  Charlie, which Moving Picture World describes as a "rough westerner," is enraged to find his actress wife dining out with a couple of male admirers.  Here is a review from Variety: "Usual stage door stuff and seltzer bottle.  Ordinary." 

Variety offered a concise review of When Wives Joined the Army (1914, Universal) from Variety: "Comedy.  Seltzer bottle.  Mediocre."  

Here is a Motion Picture News review of The Valet (1915): 

Slapstick, pure and simple, with Billy Reeves featured. . . Mr. Grouch having advertised for a new valet, Bill is engaged, and they proceed to Atlantic City for a vacation.  Bill's awkwardness with baggage, his careless handling of the rolling chair, his flirtatious tendencies, cause all the mishaps which will amuse the slapstick admirers.  The inevitable seltzer squirting forms part of the action.  Why will directors still stick to this time-worn device?

Lloyd Hamilton found a unique use for a seltzer bottle in A Flashlight Flivver (1915).  The Kalem Kalender reported: 

As a photographer, Ham convincingly proves himself to be the unluckiest man in seven counties.  Bud is to blame for most of Ham's difficulties.  For instance, while Ham is talking to some prospective customers, Bud places a seltzer bottle in the camera.

The seltzer bottle played a role in a rapid series of stock gags in Keystone's My Valet (1915).  Joe Lowe ("Jolo") of Variety made this clear when he wrote: 

Raymond Hitchcock is starred in the Mack Sennett production of the Keystone (Triangle) feature "My Valet." Hitchcock, a bachelor (this in itself is funny to those of us who know Raymond), takes a trip to the coast, accompanied by his valet (Mack Sennett).  En route they are shown on a swaying train and indulge in seltzer bottle "jasbo". . . The "slapstick" complications that ensue are fast and furious, and of tried and approved Keystone brand.  They include the burning of father's whiskers, the breaking of crockery over people's craniums, automobile wrecks, near-drowning, and so on ad infinitum.  The big climax is reached when Hitchcock sees Miss Normand drowning and jumps from his window with an umbrella for a parachute and lands in the ocean alongside Mabel, thereby effecting a thrilling rescue.  The audience screamed with laughter at the innumerable sure-fire situations. . .

In Keystone's Fatty's New Role (1915), a drunken hobo (Roscoe Arbuckle) accidentally squirts himself in the face with a seltzer bottle.

Harry Gribbon fires a seltzer bottle at Fatty Voss in The Claw of the Law (1915).

It didn't take long for a backlash to occur.

Moving Picture World (1915) 

Comedy action may be hitting another man and knocking him down.  It does not have to be.  Sidney Drew is one of the best comedy actors in pictures. He does not use the seltzer bottle or the blown bladder, but be makes his audiences laugh with a look or a gesture that emphasizes the idea of the scene.

W. Stephen Bush wrote in Moving Picture World of Young Romance (1915): 

This production forever silences the claim that refined comedy cannot be conveyed via the screen.  A more refined comedy has never been shown since the days of Moliere.  Moreover, it is American refined comedy.  You do not have to extract and then study over bits of humor as you have to do in so many foreign comedies (even the best), but the humor of the thing hits you directly in the solar plexus.  It is the sparkling, exuberant bubbling humor of our own country condensed and trebly distilled and an everlasting provocation to hearty laughter.  Nobody is kicked in the rear (mirabile dictu), there is no trick-hose or seltzer bottle, nobody falls over himself or herself and there is positively no chase.  Old-time motion picture men will wonder how a screen comedy can be constructed without these time-honored ingredients, but they will cease to wonder after they have seen "Young Romance". . . [T]his gem of honest, genuine human comedy deserves to rank with the best [Jesse L. Lasky] has produced.
 The matter arose yet again during a 1919 interview with A. J. Van Buren, the president of V. B. K. Film Corporation, published in Moving Picture World.  Buren said of his company's Sidney Drew comedies: 
I've studied the 'laughers' who get their fun out of films.  When a victim gets a shock from a seltzer bottle there is a guffaw, in which only a part of a crowd will join.  But when Polly gets Henry into a tight corner in a Drew comedy those who laugh at a shot of seltzer are joined in a hearty and wholesome laugh by those who can't see the joke of slapstick.

So, the seltzer bottle disappeared again.  On stage and screen, there was the occasional holdout who refused to relinquish this tool of the trade.

New York Clipper (1916) 

The usual capacity audience was present.  [Jefferson] De Angells plays an outraged husband in a lively farce, "All at Sea," and gets into a burlesque German disguise that was greeted with shouts of laughter.  While he resorts to the seltzer bottle and rubber chicken, they are legitimately introduced, and he certainly was amusing.

Variety (1916) The Columbia Theatre.  

Newport and Spink, acrobats and dancers, have a barber shop set, with the barber and the customer doing some knockabout work of well-known design, preparatory to the Razor Jim act, the haircut and shave, with the big bucket and brush, the big razor and the seltzer bottle washup.

Variety (1916) (satire) 

Hokum and Hokum announce two new slapsticks and a two-quart seltzer bottle will be added to their next season's production.

Chaplin was artful with the seltzer bottle.

The Adventurer (1917) 

At the time, Chaplin imitator Billy West was more old-fashioned in his methods.  This is evident in The Candy Kid (1917).  Exhibitors Herald reported: 

[Billy West] and Hugo get into a [barroom] fight, the result of which is a throwing match from behind counters.  Tony enters for revenge and gets into the midst of the bombardment.  He joins Hugo and things are pretty lively until Billy cleans them out with a seltzer bottle and walks calmly on his way, upsetting a barrel of molasses, which prevents the others from chasing him.

In Politics in Pumpkin Center (1917), Ham and Bud attempt to extinguish a burning building with seltzer bottles. 

In 1918, Stan Laurel performed a trick with a seltzer bottle in his stage act "Raffles, the Dentist."

Variety (1919) Hendricks and Stone. Singing and Talking. 15 Mins.  Fifth Avenue.  

Two men in evening dress and high hats.  One does an acceptable straight to the other's "souse" . . .  A glass of what appears to be real "hootch" and a seltzer bottle used as props figure in the "souse's" single for several laughs.

A butler is squirted with a seltzer bottle in the Sennett comedy The Plumber's Daughter (1927).

The Lion's Roar (1928)

Drunken party guests launch into a mad seltzer bottle battle in Charley Chase's Whispering Whoopee (1930). 

In Blotto (1931), Stan Laurel means to squirt seltzer water into his glass, but he misses and he thoroughly drenches Oliver Hardy's lap. 

Helpmates (1932)

The second revival of the seltzer bottle was brought about by the Three Stooges, who performed full-blown versions of the routine in eight films.  

Three Little Pigskins (1934)
Calling All Curs (1939)
Yes, We Have No Bonanza (1939)
Boobs in Arms (1940)
Loco Boy Makes Good (1942)
No Dough Boys (1944)
Three Loan Wolves (1946)
Love at First Bite (1950)

Three Little Pigskins (1934)

 Yes, We Have No Bonanza (1939)

Calling All Curs (1939)

Boobs in Arms (1940)

Loco Boy Makes Good (1942)

No Dough Boys (1944)

Three Loan Wolves (1946)

Love at First Bite (1950)

In Yes, We Have No Bonanza, Curly's lack of attention causes him to hold the bottle backwards and squirt himself in the face.  This is identical to the gag performed by Arbuckle more than twenty-five years earlier.

The routine became more exaggerated each time the trio took it on.  It was necessary after a while to introduce special effects to realize seltzer bottle business at this absurd level.  At one time, Moe shoves the nozzle of the bottle into Shemp's mouth.  As soon as he pulls the trigger, water comes shooting out of Shemp's ears.  

Another time, Moe sprays Larry with the seltzer bottle.  The camera remains on a medium shot of Larry as the comedian is deluged with an impossible amount of spray.  Larry reacts as if he was under a shower nozzle, running his hands across his body to wash away the day's collection of dirt and grime.

In Modern Times (1936), Charlie Chapin derived humor from the shrill fizzy sound that a seltzer bottle makes.  GradeSaver describes the gag as follows: 

[Chaplin] turns away from the minister’s wife, reading the newspaper as she takes a small pill, but when she sprays seltzer water into a cup to drink, the loud noise startles him and he jumps and turns around.  She stares at him for a moment and then drinks her seltzer water as if nothing happened.

John Bengtson wrote in his summary of The Chemist (1936):

. . . Buster [Keaton] develops a powdered compound that explodes on contact with water.  When the bad guys accidentally coat themselves with the powder, Buster rounds them north up the street with a threatening seltzer bottle.

We Have Our Moments (1937) 

A Chump at Oxford (1939) 

Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)

It is unique to see the spray of a seltzer used for a tragic end in It's a Wonderful Life (1946).  Bar owner Nick (Sheldon Leonard) uses a seltzer bottle to humiliate a drunken derelict, Mr. Gower (H.B. Warner).

Here is a similar scene in Una vita difficile (1961).

The third seltzer bottle revival occurred in the early days of television.  Clarabell, the clown on Howdy Doody, ran around spraying people with a seltzer bottle.  

Clarabell's seltzer bottle went on the auction block.

Milton Berle, who resurrected every old gag in existence to fill his weekly show, was quick to make use of the seltzer bottle.  Frank Rich of The New York Times wrote:

His physical clowning was. . . more manic than mirthful. No sooner did a seltzer bottle start spritzing than Berle already seemed to be worrying about whatever routine was looming next on the bill.

Texaco Star Theater with Milton Berle (May 29, 1951)

A seltzer bottle bit was featured on the top-rated I Love Lucy ("The Ballet," 1952).

Top Banana (1954)

The subject of the seltzer bottle came up in a 1964 episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show called "Three Letters from One Wife."  Veteran comedian Alan Brady complains to Rob, "I spent half of my life picking meringue out of my nose and shaking seltzer out of my ears."  He asks Rob how he would like being sprayed in the face by a seltzer bottle. 

The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968)

Cannon and Ball (1980s)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Other items, including well-shaken beer cans, champagne bottles, water pistols and fire extinguishers, have served as substitutes for the seltzer bottle.  

La paura degli aeromobili nemici (1915, Itala Film)

A Chump At Oxford (1940)

Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)

A beer bottle can serve the same purpose.

Three Loan Wolves (1946)

Eddie Bracken uses a paint gun much like a seltzer bottle on Colgate Comedy Hour (December 2, 1951).


Stay dry, my friends.

Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)

I Love Lucy ("The Ballet," 1952)

Reference Sources


Kramer, Fritzi.  "Wonderful Absinthe (1899) A Silent Film Review."  Movies Silently (March 12, 2017).

Rich, Frank.  "The Lives They Lived; TV Guy."  The New York Times ( December 29, 2002).