Harry Langdon… The Forgotten Clown: (The Strong Man / Tramp, Tramp, Tramp / Long Pants)
Three complete features from the rediscovered genius of silent comedy! These classic silent slapstick films are the high points in Harry Langdon and Frank Capra’s collaboration during 1926 and 1927, culminating in some of the finest American comedies of all-time! “The Strong Man” (1926, 74 min.) – After a tour of duty in World War I, Paul, a witless young Belgian, comes to America and seeks out the dedicated pen pal (Priscilla Bonner) whose letters lifted his spirits during the heat of battle. But to Paul, the land of opportunity turns out to be a world of confusion, as his quest for Mary Brown leads him from mishap to comic disaster. “Tramp. Tramp, Tramp” (1926, 61 min.) – In an effort to save the family business, a shoemaker’s son enters a cross-country foot race with hopes of walking away with the $25,000 prize. During the course of his westward hike, Langdon woos Joan Crawford, is thrown in a chain gang, dangled from the edge of a cliff and caught in a violent tornado. “Long Pants” (1927, 58 min.) – When a sheepish young man yearning for romance is given his first pair of grown-up trousers, he springs into adulthood and is immediately smitten by the wrong woman. When his queen is jailed, Harry abandons his small-town sweetheart and comes to the brazen woman’s rescue, ushering his fugitive moll through a series of riotous scrapes.
In an exceptional case of good timing, Harry Langdon emerged as a silent-comedy clown just as the careers of Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin were stagnant or (in the case of Chaplin) on extended hiatus. Along came Langdon with his own screen persona–a cherubic, innocent man-child in ill-fitting clothes, his weathered hat at a permanent tilt–and by the mid-’20s he was a critical and box-office smash. The three short features offered here represent the best work of this “forgotten clown,” and although Langdon’s slapstick was gentler and somewhat derivative, his endearing character was featured in delightful stories that earned his place in the silent-comedy hall of fame.
The Strong Man (1926) was Langdon’s second and finest film; it’s bracingly ambitious in both scope and story, and marked director Frank Capra’s feature-film debut. Harry plays an unlikely World War I hero who immigrates to America to find his pen-pal sweetheart, posing as a vaudeville strongman as his love-struck odyssey spins through a series of increasingly audacious comedy set pieces. Langdon’s debut feature, Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1926), costars Joan Crawford as the woman who’s captured Harry’s fancy, and he joins a cross-country walking race in an adventurous effort to impress her. The film’s climactic cyclone scene is as impressive for its time as anything in Twister–and a whole lot funnier. Finally, 1927’s Long Pants follows the familiar formula: Harry’s misguided attraction to a brazen vamp (which tempts him to dispatch his unsuspecting fiancée) leads to a series of misadventures, but as always, Harry’s innate goodness wins out in the end.
Langdon’s career was never again as bright; he directed himself in subsequent, lesser films and his popularity rapidly faded. That makes this collection essential for silent-comedy aficionados; these films are the enduring legacy of Langdon’s brief but shining time in the spotlight, and they should not be forgotten. –Jeff Shannon