Monday, December 21, 2009


Tramp, Tramp, Tramp


A film review by Dan Navarro

Copyright 2009 Dan Navarro

Harry Langdon was a supernova. As far as silent cinema is concerned, he was – this is the dictionary definiton – “an extremely bright, short-lived object that emits vast amounts of energy.”

Short-lived is right. Over the years, film researchers have remarked on the brilliance of this comic who came along and almost instantly challenged the greats of film comedy – Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd – and then quickly disappeared. Film historian Kevin Brownlow called Langdon “the fourth genius of screen comedy.” He was that, but for a very short period of time.

Langdon came to films late – in 1924, when he was already 40 years old – and soon became a favorite in Mack Sennett short comedies. Two years later, he branched out as an independent producer and starred in a feature-length comedy, Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1926).

In character, Langdon was as grotesque as Chaplin’s Little Tramp or Keaton’s Great Stone Face. He played a doleful, innocent man-child, baby-like in his mannerisms and gestures. In Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, he plays Harry Logan, son of an elderly, handicapped bootmaker (Alec B. Francis) who is behind in the rent. To earn enough money to pay the landlord, Harry enters a coast-to-coast walking race, with the winner to receive a $25,000 prize.

The contest is sponsored by a shoe tycoon whose ads feature a picture of his beautiful daughter Betty (the 22-year-old Joan Crawford). Harry takes one look at Betty’s image and falls madly, impossibly, incongruously in love with her. I say “incongruously” because Langdon’s character looks so immature and fragile, you can’t imagine him having enough pep to love a woman. But he loves this woman.

The race begins. Soon all the best walkers in the world are on the path, heading from New York to California. Harry, naturally, is late… but he catches up. Then he makes a wrong turn and winds up on a ranch, surrounded by hundreds of sheep. To escape them, he climbs a nearby fence and clambers over the side… not realizing that he is now on the edge of a very steep cliff.

It’s a “thrill” moment that would do Harold Lloyd proud. Harry tries to escape his predicament by dismantling the fence with a hammer, but the darned thing falls apart and Harry rides it like a sled, down the hill, hundreds of feet down… and it lands right on the racing path, in front of the other contestants.

The racers rendezvous in Cleveland, Ohio. There, the shoe tycoon and his daughter greet the contestants and Harry, impulsively, steals a kiss from her. Joan Crawford reacts as if she’s just seen a wire coat hanger. But she lets it pass, and soon the racers are off again.

Tramp, Tramp, Tramp’s most spectacular scene comes after the racers have crossed what an intertitle calls “the great American desert.” A cyclone hits Sand City, and buildings are destroyed, cars are overturned, and the violent wind threatens to kill everyone in town. That would be too bad, because now Betty and her dad have arrived, and Betty finds herself trapped – alone – on the second floor of a building that is ready to collapse. Harry summons the nerve to climb the stairs and he carries Betty down to safety.

Then, seeing that the cyclone is still wreaking havoc, Harry starts throwing bricks at it. That’s right, bricks. He is thinking as a child would; but lo and behold, the cyclone responds by moving away from town and dissipating into the desert.

An intertitle reads: “David slew Goliath; Daniel tamed the lions; Joshua stopped the sun; and Harry made a cyclone take the air.”

At the finish line, the world’s champion walker, Nick Kargas (Tom Murray) appears to be on his way to victory… but this time, the perpetually late Harry puts on a determined sprint, passes him up, and finishes first. He wins not only the prize money, but also Betty’s hand in marriage. And that’s love.


herana said...

It is so lucky that i come here accidently, the aundant resources makes me excited,thank you!
By Jordan Sneaker

Dan Navarro said...

You're very welcome, herana. If you love old, classic films, even the rare ones, you've come to the right place.