The Sunday Intertitle: Soldier of Misfortune

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My ingenuity, such as it is, fails me — I know of no way to connect today’s intertitle with 70s Sci-Fi Week, which commences tomorrow. But hopefully this title card from the Frank Capra co-scripted SOLDIER MAN, amuses. the film stars Harry Langdon as the last American soldier in Europe, who hasn’t realized the war is over. You could have lots of fun with a character like that running around bayoneting bewildered civilians, I guess, but the film chooses not to go there.

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I mean, is this the face of a killer? Even stranded in “Bomania” and desperate for food, Langdon does not set out to make things happen, and for the film’s first few minutes does nothing but sit on a tree stump and look at his diary. He doesn’t even make an entry.

Capra was fond of claiming he invented Langdon’s comedy persona, which was quite untrue, but he deserves credit for devising situations where this largely passive figure could be put through his tottering paces. If the situation is active enough, the still figure in the centre becomes compelling.

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2 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Soldier of Misfortune”

  1. Langdon also fought the Great War in:

    — “The Strong Man”. He’s a Belgian who’s literally carried off by a large German. Cut to the present, where we see he’s evidently been kept as a semi-slave by the German, now a civilian strong man act. One of those things you don’t really think about until you try to describe it, and then the whole thing takes on a different tone.
    — “All Night Long”: Harry falls asleep in a cinema, and wakes up to run into his old sergeant, now a burglar. Flashback to the war when they competed for a French girl, now Harry’s wife.

    Both were long on “innocent” combat slapstick, free of dark shadings. In “Strong Man” he’s a machine gunner who whiles away the time trying to shoot a tin can. When an actual enemy appears, he resorts to his more accurate slingshot. In “All Night Long” he’s scampering around No Man’s Land at night, bedeviled by shells and explosions coming from unseen sources. The closest to black comedy comes when one blast leaves him looking at what seem to be his own legs, separated from his body. Turns out they belong to a very much alive officer he’s credited with saving.

    Langdon was a writer on “Blockheads,” a Laurel and Hardy feature that opened with much the same premise as “Soldier Boy”, except Stanley spends decades obeying his last order, dutifully observing military etiquette as he guards the trench. He does force down a civilian airplane, whose pilot somewhat rashly shows up to complain. From there on it’s Ollie leading Stan into trouble, as usual (after the cheerily morbid missing leg bit).

    Don’t think WWI can be dubbed a preoccupation of Langdon’s, since feels like a lot of comics and even cartoon characters went there.

  2. …after Chaplin showed them it was safe to do so.

    Chaplin, a notorious skinflint, did allow Shoulder Arms to be played for free in military hospitals, where they would project it on the ceiling for burns victims.

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