There were three unarguable geniuses in silent comedy: Charlie
Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton. They all started out in
shorts and quickly graduated to feature films, something that was fairly
difficult for silent screen clowns. To keep an audience laughing
through a 20-minute two-reeler was one thing, but to sustain that laughter
for well over an hour was something all together. There were many
talented comics who never made the jump to features, and some that did,
such as Larry Semon, soon found themselves back in shorts when their longer
was one other comic who had a string of successful features. A man
who was compared more than once to Chaplin and who Mack Sennett famously
said was the best comedian he ever saw. In his seminal book "The
Silent Clowns", author Walter Kerr devoted three chapters to this performer,
but today he's all but forgotten. The man? Harry Langdon.
While Keaton, Chaplin, and Lloyd have most of their films out on DVD, there
has only been one disc devoted to Langdon (which contained his first three
independent features: Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, The Strong Man, and
Long Pants) along with a couple of shorts included in various collections.
This has been corrected with the release of Harry Langdon: Lost
and Found a magnificent four disc set that contains 20 of this forgotten
clown's films along with copious supplemental material.
Harry Langdon had show-biz in his blood. He ran away from home
at the age of 12 to join Dr. Belcher's Kickapoo Indian Medicine Show (an
experience that possibly provided fodder for his short Lucky Star included
in this set) and was a seasoned and successful vaudeville actor.
He started in the movies rather late in his career, not making his first
film until 1923 when he was nearly 40. After a couple of quick shorts
for producer Sol Lesser (both lost films), Mack Sennett bought Langdon's
contract in 1924 and started him on his way to stardom. By 1926 Langdon
had developed his character, acquired a creative team that knew how to
write and direct him (these included director Harry Edwards and writers
Frank Capra (yes, the Frank Capra) and Arthur Ripley), and released
a string of increasingly popular shorts.
many other comics did before him, Langdon outgrew Sennett's studio.
In 1926 he signed a contract with First National and became an independent
producer. He took his staff of Edwards, Capra, and Ripley with him.
According to his agreement, he had to provide two features per year for
three years and he would be paid a set amount for each one. His first,
Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, was a big hit, but it was significantly over
budget and so director Harry Edwards was fired. The next film, The
Strong Man, was directed by Capra and is considered Langdon's best.
It also did well at the box office. With his third feature, Long
Pants, (which also did respectable business at the box office) Langdon
and Capra had a falling out. Langdon fired Capra and decided to write,
direct, and star in his films from then on, just as Charlie Chaplin had
Langdon's film career came crashing down as quickly it had risen.
His next three films were all flops and First National refused to renew
his contract when it was up. Unable to find other work, he signed
on with Hal Roach and made eight sound films, none of which captured his
earlier glory. For a while he ended up making cheap two-reelers at
Educational, as Buster Keaton also did, and then got a job at Columbia.
He also starting writing and penned Block-heads,Flying Deuces, and
others for Laurel and Hardy, which only seems natural since Stan Laurel's
character owes a lot to Langdon's. Harry Langdon died in 1944.
The films in this set collect all of the surviving films that Langdon
made while with Sennett from 1924-1926. This is a unique and interesting
group of films since it's possible to see Langdon's character evolve over
time. The first couple of movies are pretty standard Sennett comedies,
relying on mechanical gags, animation, and bathing beauties to keep an
audiences attention. After those however you start to see something
odd emerge: a comedian who is not in a hurry. As where other
comedians were always rushing about, being chased by the police or frantically
trying to get out of a jam, Langdon takes the opposite approach:
he slows things down. You could almost describe him as a minimalist
comic: one who does nothing to get a laugh.
of comedy is the unexpected.... When something unusual happens it can be
funny. That's where Langdon lived: in doing what the
audiences didn't expect. By the time he was making these shorts (1926-27)
movie goers had come to fully understand slapstick comedy. There
were certain rules that were followed and viewers came to expect frantic
action. That's where Harry got them. When stuck in the middle
of No Man's Land, his shirt caught on some barbed wire, Harry finds a live
hand grenade that's about to go off. Instead of panicking the child-like
Langdon doesn't even realize what it is, picks it up, and tries to use
the grenade to free himself from the wire. Langdon always had
this look on his face like he didn't really know what was going on, as
if everything was foreign to him. It's this babe-in-the-woods who
doesn't react the way he's expected to that makes his films so hilarious.
That's also his downfall. Many modern audiences won't get Langdon's
style since they aren't familiar with the slapstick conventions.
His lack of action can easily be confused for lack of comedy, but nothing
could be further from the truth. His carefully timed movements, jumping
a split second after a car nearly hits him rather than before, are wonderfully
While I'll admit I was unimpressed with the first couple of shorts in
this set, those that were done before Sennett really knew what to do with
his new star, after Langdon teams up with director Harry Edwards on Luck
of the Foolish things start to pick up considerably.
One of the highlights of the set is Feet of Mud. This movie
contains a couple of routines that are priceless including Harry fighting
a mannequin and a scene where he tries to take a large push-broom onto
favorite film in this collection however is All Night Long. Told
in a unique style the film is both interesting and funny. Harry nods
off while watching a movie in a theater and wakes to find the place empty.
Stumbling around he encounters three dangerous criminals who are trying
to break into the theater's safe. It looks like Harry's in trouble
until one of the men (Vernon Dent who plays his foil in many of these films)
recognizes him. They were stationed in France together during the
war, and the two men start to reminisce about their times together.
Told through flashbacks, the war scenes are really funny, especially Harry's
reaction when Dent's French girlfriend greats him with a kiss. The
end was hilarious and satisfying.
The set ends up with a couple of shorts that Langdon made in the 30's.
It was great to see these, but honestly they pale in comparison to his
other work on this set. It would have been nice to see his last three
features that he made for First National too, but I assume there's a problem
with the copyrights. Even without those, this is a very nice set
that amply illustrates why Langdon was so popular in the late 20's.
This set contains the following films:
Picking Peaches Feb 3, 1924 • 21:30
Smile Please March 2, 1924 • 18:32
His New Mamma June 22, 1924 • 15:15
-Partial restoration using source material from Getty Images, Lobster
Films, and David Kalat
The First 100 Years Aug 17, 1924 • 13:19
-Partial restoration using source material from Lobster Films
Luck o' the Foolish Sept 14, 1924 • 21:13
The Hansom Cabman Oct 12, 1924 • 19:25
All Night Long Nov 9, 1924 • 19:29
Feet of Mud Dec 7, 1924 • 17:34
The Sea Squawk Jan 4, 1925 • 18:42
Boobs in the Wood Feb 1, 1925 • 19:52
His Marriage Wow Mar 1, 1925 • 20:39
Plain Clothes March 29, 1925 • 15:47
Remember When April 26, 1925 • 19:04
Lucky Stars Aug 16, 1925 • 21:24
Saturday Afternoon Jan 31, 1926 • 27:12
Fiddlesticks April 1, 1926 • 19:55
Soldier Man May 1, 1926 • 31:13
His First Flame May 3, 1927 • 44:36
-The first feature Harry Langdon made, but not released until
after LONG PANTS
Knight Duty May 7, 1933 • 21:03
Hooks and Jabs Aug 25, 1933 • 18:31
Love, Honor and Obey (the Law) 1935 • 21:31
This four disc set collects 20 Langdon movies (mostly two-reelers) and
assorted bonus material (including a feature length bio-pic) on four DVDs.
These come in a very attractive hardcover DVD 'book". There are two
DVD on each side of the opened book, but two are on flip-up pages so the
discs don't overlap. (I hate that.) There's also a nice 20-page
booklet that includes ten essays on Langdon as well as a listing of the
films in the set and credits. This is a very attractive package that
looks nice on a DVD shelf.
These films come with musical scores provided by the Snark Ensemble.
(With the exception of the feature His First Flame which has a piano
accompaniment by Franklin Stover, and the Redwine Jazz Band who accompanied
Marriage Wow.) A majority of the scores were written but two
members of the Ensemble, Andrew Simpson and Maurice Saylor and were very
good overall. I found a couple of the choices a bit odd, such as
the Theremin used at the beginning of Lucky Stars, but this was
the exception rather than the rule. The group also uses some electric
instruments, which some purists object to, but I didn't mind. Their
sound is rather unique in that they employ some instruments (at various
times) that you wouldn't expect to hear such as an accordion. I would
have gone for a more minimalist approach myself, but this works too. The
scores did match the action on screen and did a good job of keeping the
films lively and entertaining. Some sound effects were added in some
films, mainly bells and wooden claps, but these weren't overdone.
A nice set of music that does a good job matching the tone of these movies.
Since these movies have been digitally restored from original negatives
and archival prints the full frame image looks very good, especially for
films this old. While the quality does vary some, generally the movies
all have a good amount of detail, fine contrast and only minimal print
damage (for 80 year old films.) There are scratches and some dirt
along with the occasional missing frame but these are almost never distracting.
There is a fair amount of digital noise and the films are generally on
the soft side, but the set looks much better than I was expecting it to.
The producers of this set managed to dig up a good number of extras
The first disc starts off with a surviving fragment from Horace Greely,
Jr. a short Langdon made before signing with Sennett. There's
also a pair of clips from Funny Mann, a syndicated show similar
Flickers where silent films are re-edited and put to music.
The clips present two Langdon shorts, His New Mamma (from show 4)
and Luck 'O the Foolish (from show 68.) There's also a Sennett
short from 1927, Catalina, Here I Come. In this film Sennett
tries to mold Eddie Quillan into another Harry Langdon. It's an interesting
short and I'm glad they included it.
Disc two has a one-reel condensation of Remember When entitled
Lost and Found as well as a photo gallery. On the third DVD there's
a one-reel digest version of Saturday Afternoon as well as a pdf copy of
the press kit for Langdon's feature Heart Trouble. This is
viewable on a computer equipped with a DVD-ROM drive.
On the last disc there's a treasure trove of material. First off
is Lost and Found a 75-minute biography of Langdon that is very informative
and well done. Various film historians discus the baby-faced comic
and his place in silent film comics. It's a very good documentary,
filled with astute observations about Langdon. The only noticeable
absence is a lack of footage from Langdon's three successful features Tramp,
Tramp, Tramp, The Strong Man, and Long Pants. Though much
of the information is also contained in the commentaries this show would
be a nice introduction to Langdon.
Next is a seven minute promo reel from 1929 that was never screened
for the public where Hal Roach welcomes Harry Langdon to the "Lot of Fun".
Then there are two Langdon cameos in Voice of Hollywood (1930) and
on Parade (episode 4), as well a Langdon lip-synching to a song in
Beautiful Girls. Wrapping up the collection is a six-minute
reel of Langdon home movies.
There are also audio commentaries to all of the films as well.
Richard M. Roberts is my favorite of the bunch, but Ben Model, Steve Massa,
Bruce Lawton, Robert Arkus, David Kalat, Wayne Powers, Ed Watz, Ken Gordon,
and Hooman Mehran also provide their thoughts (both solo and in groups.)
These were very educational, and though there was a fair amount of repetition
between some of the commentaries they were all fun to listen to.
Not only were the supporting actors identified and discussed but there
was a good deal of information on Langdon (naturally), who was really responsible
for creating Langdon's personality, and they even found time to talk about
the films too. A fun set of commentaries all around.
This is a great set. Not only does it present the rarely seen
films that Langdon made while at Sennett, but it also has some of his talkie
shorts and ample bonus material. Langdon was a wonderful comic, but
he's not for everybody. People who haven't seen a lot of silent comedies
should probably work their way through Lloyd, Chaplin, and Keaton first
in order to be able to understand Langdon's style of comedy. For
the many silent movie fans that are well versed in slapstick however, I
heartily recommend this set. Highly recommended.