Archive for Harry Langdon

The Sunday Intertitle: Soldier of Misfortune

Posted in FILM with tags , , on August 16, 2015 by dcairns


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.


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.

Silent but deadly

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on June 21, 2012 by dcairns

Harry Langdon time again. This time via The Forgotten, over at The Daily Notebook. Seems Richard Brody is right — Langdon was a talented director.

The Sunday Intertitle: Two of a Kind

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 17, 2012 by dcairns

THREE’S A CROWD seems to have marked the real downturn in Harry Langdon’s fortunes as a star. Frank Capra liked to blame Langdon’s decline on the fact that he didn’t know his own screen character because he, Capra, had created it. Capra got fired from the Langdon organisation and Langdon certainly foundered on his own.

Joseph McBride in The Catastrophe of Success, his highly critical biography of Capra, heaps scorn on this notion, pointing out Langdon’s long stage career, during which he clearly had some kind of comic character worked out. And indeed, Langdon did not have Capra’s help on all of his early shorts.

The real problem with THREE’S A CROWD is construction, although the film certainly fails to make good use of Langdon’s childlike, melancholy and uncanny qualities. The first ten minutes or so is a pretty good standalone short, with Harry as a sleepy removal man. Much use is made of Harry’s odd apartment, which has a street lamp by the bed, and the extremely long external staircase, which looks like something Tati might have had built. The nicest gag involves Harry falling through a trapdoor and dangling from a carpet that’s caught in the trap. He manages to climb the dangling rug, attempts to open the trap to get back inside, and of course releases the carpet which slides further through, Harry still clinging to it. This is repeated until he’s running out of carpet and about to plummet several storeys. Good suspense gag, good convincing comedy physics.

Then the mother and baby arrive and the film goes to crap. Influenced by THE KID, down to a dream sequence which takes the place of honest plot development, Langdon is given no amusing business involving his new foster-fatherhood, and an inert swaddled infant is no substitute for Jackie Coogan. Inviting the comparison was madness. It’s a shame because Langdon has an extraterrestrial quality, even more so than Keaton. He’s a unique presence and his best moments have an unsettling quality much to my taste.

The film does have THIS, however —

Just beautiful.

Well worth buying these —

Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success

Lost and Found: The Harry Langdon Collection


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