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Here is a wonderful Harry Langdon short that sees the great comedian's
lost-innocent character totally at a loss to deal with the chaos and
malice that results when he is framed as a bigamist for money by his
butler. It's a really great example of how Harry can take even scenes
where there are few actual jokes or gags and work some kind of comedy
necromancy on them to make them hilarious. He's the incongruously still
calm in the middle of the storm of violence and ill-will around him.
The only time he does try violence, hitting his wife over the head with
a bottle, he does it with a hilariously dainty gesture as if he has
tapped her with a magic wand, and them charmingly switches without
delay to taking care of her and putting her to bed. Of course, this
kindness is repayed with a return bottle to the head.
Nobody could do what Harry did -- drawing out one gag for minutes and allowing its humor to build the whole time. This film is a little episodic and Harry's career as a cabman (something it is neat actually to see on screen for a Sherlock Holmes fan such as myself) has scant real connection to the rest of the film, but it's not what matters -- the madder what goes on around Harry is, the funnier and somehow more poignant is placidity is.
There are a lot of wonderful moments here, which are what really make this short memorable for me. Harry's volunteering of the gun immediately after being caught with the second wife he never took and show-bravado in self-sacrifice (and then his metal -pan trick to save himself), and even little gestures like his volunteering of his shoulder to allow himself to be dragged off to jail, are utterly wonderful and charming.
My favorite little moment involved Andy Clyde (who played two of his many miscellaneous roles in this film) as a crazy man talking to a drawing of a man on the wall of the jail. Andy introduces Harry to him, and Harry mimes shaking the drawing's hand heartily. It's funny, and it's a perfect character moment. Harry isn't CRAZY, but he trustingly accepts what the crazy man says without knowing he's crazy.
Harry's characteristic style seems completely present or almost so, giving the lie, as frequently observed, to the old idea that it was invented by Frank Capra.
Harry's support is good here. Look for a scene where Harry fiancée Marceline Day faints onto an obviously very heavily padded couch, which flattens out in the next shot. Maybe she bruised easily. There's a very fun and somewhat uncharacteristic stunt sequence with Harry riding standing on top of cars.
It's wonderful to be able to see this film as it was thought lost for many years until discovered in a Dutch archive, restored, and released on DVD as part of "Lost and Found: The Harry Langdon Collection." It's a lovely little film, so let me take this opportunity to thank heartily the restorers and archivists who allow us to watch it today!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Being his tenth film released, THE HANSOM CABMAN presents Harry Langdon
at a time when the childlike insecurity which was soon to become his
trademark had begun to seriously dominate his behavior, and he is, in
other words, quite as we know him. I won't bother to dwell on the
endless debate "either you do or you don't get him" here; what I will
say, however, is that if you like Harry Langdon, this is not a short to
skip; and even if you don't like him but are open-minded enough to give
this "baby-face" another try, this is probably one of the better
We witness Harry in bed, complaining over a hang-over, on what happens to be the morning of his wedding-day. So far unbeknownst to him is the fact that he is already a married man, but certainly not to his sweetheart; it turns out that during the previous night, obviously in a highly intoxicated condition, he was seduced by a dark-haired, big-eyed "vamp" whose temper is even more remarkable than her looks. We are immediately reminded that it is Harry Langdon we are watching; no other major silent comedian would likely have put himself into the position of marrying another girl while engaged (at least not by the 1920s, when it became fashionable for film comedians to be more likable than earlier on), but instead let the whole thing be a misunderstanding. But with Harry, we see the circumstances differently. If, say, Harold Lloyd got drunk the night before his wedding-day and married another girl as a result, our empathy towards him would quickly fade; a grown man accomplishing such an act would leave us with a feeling of embarrassment, knowing that this man knows better. However, once Harry finds himself in such a situation, we feel quite pitiful for him; not in a sentimental sense, but rather with the viewpoint of the parent of a child. We shake our heads at the unclever actions of the child, but we do nevertheless feel sorry for his lack of wisdom and experience. With this long analysis I am most of all trying to suggest that Langdon was more aware of his character than numerous legends want us to believe; he would certainly not have risked to portray himself in this way any more than his contemporaries, were it not for the fact that he knew that his character, in a sense, permitted him to do so.
Anyway, while we as the public may feel sorry for Harry in his situation, his surroundings do not. Once his wife --a sweet girl, by all means-- finds out, the first out of three very good sequences takes off; the fight in Harry's house between the sweetheart, her mother-in-law (of course) and the "vamp," as well as the housekeeper himself and his butler. Although the sequence offers much fast-paced comedy in typical Sennett- fashion, it provides Harry with several opportunities to do some quite Langdonesque twists with the material, and is so well timed that it could easily be mistaken for being Laurel & Hardy on a good day. Harry, out of desperation, knocks a bottle in the head of his unwanted wife, and carefully guides the unconscious woman to bed. While he makes her bed ready she comes to herself, and knocks Harry down with another bottle; Harry, in return, crawls into the bed he has just made ready, treating himself as carefully as he treated the wife. Next, Harry is sent to jail, only in his pajamas, and consequently finds his surroundings even more confusing than usual; he tries to befriend his cell-mates, but the task proves uneasy. This is the second notable sequence in the film; perhaps the least memorable of them, as most of the gags are somewhat predictable, but a couple of funny titles make up for it: "And this was supposed to be my wedding-day," Harry's sweetheart cries to her beloved in the cell. "Don't worry," Harry comforts her, "I'm not going anywhere." Later on, Harry is put to work in the jail-kitchen, and causing havoc, the brute of a cook threatens, "If you don't get busy, I'll throw you out of here!"
The last and probably best of the three sequences covers Harry's escape from jail; there are some small, brilliant bits of comedy which I'll not repeat (or reveal) here, but if you appreciate silent comedy at all, I'd be astonished if you don't find yourself laughing. The film is round off by a thrilling finale in which Harry finds himself standing on a car-roof when the thing suddenly begins to roll. He is bumped from one car to another in breath- taking speed. On the surface, much of the comedy may seem rather mechanical, the kind of material which "any" competent comedian could do; but once again, Harry is able to let his elf-like character steer the action. As my "round-off" to this review, I'll say as I already said; THE HANSOM CABMAN, which is now available on the new Harry Langdon-collection on DVD from Facets, is definitely among the films where Langdon had begun to find his style in films, and also probably one of the better ones to start out with to newcomers of the Little Elf.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is one of many shorts that are included in "Harry Langdon: Lost
and Found Disk 1". This is a three disk set and it's odd that it's been
so hard to find Langdon shorts up until this set was released in 2007.
The title to this film was poorly chosen, as the main theme of the film has nothing to do with cabs and this is only a plot element at the very end. Instead, the bulk of the film has to do with Harry's upcoming nuptials. It seems that the night before his wedding he was partying too hard (something that doesn't seem to fit his character, by the way). When he wakes up the next day, it seems he married another lady while intoxicated!! His fiancée is naturally upset as is her father the judge. In the meantime, Harry is accidentally jailed but easily escapes. However, when the cops come looking for him, he thinks it's because of the escape, though it's really because his fiancée and her family now realized that Harry's "wife" was faking it and he isn't married after all. But the harder they try to find him, the harder he tries to hide because he thinks he's going to jail!. This is a very clever idea and the title should have been about marriage or bigamy or perhaps him being chased by the police. He posed as a hansom cab driver only towards the very end.
There were a couple odd things about this film. First, when he was a cabbie, a couple Chinese men get on board and are smoking opium--something that fed into a popular negative stereotype of the day. Harry's becoming high due to second-hand smoke is a rather daring and weird little moment. Also the film was quite enjoyable, but at the end it just ended very abruptly--like perhaps they were missing part of the film. Still, compared to the other films on Disk 1, this is one of the better and funnier shorts.
Hansom Cabman, The (1924)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
Harry Langdon wakes up on his wedding day with a terrible hangover but what's worse is that there's a woman in his apartment claiming to be the woman he married the night before. All of this leads to trouble when his soon to be wife shows up with her mother. Of all the Langdon shorts I've seen so far this one here is clearly the best due to a nice story and a few small laughs. I'd be lying if I said I was laughing out loud but the film did keep me entertained throughout its running time. The story itself is built up very good as we have the drunken wedding to start with and then the film goes to a jail scene after Harry is arrested for beating his wife. Andy Clyde plays the wife to be's father and he has a few funny moments but sadly he's not in the film too long. Langdon himself also comes off very likable here, which is a first for me. As I've said, I heard his shorts grew better as time moved on and I hope that's the case here. While this film is far from a classic it was worth watching.
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