The Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book recommended a couple of titles to go along with The General, I’ve already seen one of them and reviewed it, Safety Last, so I settled in for the next one, this little gem from Frank Capra and starring Harry Langdon.
Langdon stars as Paul Bergot, and we join him as he’s serving in the Belgian army during the first world war. While he’s not so great with the machine gun he’s been assigned to, he’s awful good with his slingshot. That doesn’t save him from the big brute of a German soldier, Zandow (Arthur Thalasso) who captures him while the nebbish fellow is mooning over a picture and letter from his American penpal and sweetheart, Mary Brown (Priscilla Bonner).
After the war, Zandow and Bergot come to America, now working together. Zandow is a strong man, while Paul is his behind the scenes assistant. While in America, Bergot plans to track down his elusive love Mary, and let life take its course.
The road, convoluted as it is, finally brings them to the small town of Cloverdale, which has become overrun by gangsters and thugs using it as a distribution point for alcohol and gambling. They’ve converted the local community hall into a music hall, calling it the Palace, a rowdy and wild place that is protested daily by Holy Joe (William V. Mong) and his loyal congregation.
He also just happens to be the father of Mary, whom we learn is blind (though how she wrote her letters now confuses me…).
When Paul finds her, the two of them spend a wonderful afternoon together, chatting, laughing and getting to know one another. All the while, Zandow is taking in the liberties of the town, read as getting drunk at The Palace.
Unable to go on, Paul has to take his place, under threat of death, and he literally brings the house down, saves the town, and gets the girl.
While once again not necessarily a flat-out comedy, there is lots to laugh at, especially in the last act when Langon takes the stage for the Strong Man act. While not quite as physical a comedian as Keaton, he does have a lot of funny moves, and quirks that are highly entertaining.
Watching him drag an ‘unconscious’ woman up the stairs backwards is very funny, there are lots of fun little moments, his reaction to a tiger skin rug, being ejected from the bus before tumbling down a hillside to land back in it, wandering a corner while someone tries to fish money out of his pocket. Lots of fun little brilliant moments.
Still between the two of them, I think I prefer Keaton’s comedy stylings to Langdon’s, his physical stunts are just so amazing.
This was however an interesting little watch, and it’s fascinating to see how some comedy has changed over the years, while some things will always be funny.
Who’s your favorite silent age comedian?