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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Shanghaied Lovers" was only the third short starring Harry Langdon
made at Mack Sennett Studios, and it was unavailable or presumed lost
for many years. It was not even possible to release it in the
otherwise-comprehensive set of Langdon's silents from Allday
Entertainment in 2007. Now a company called Looser than Loose has
restored the short from two different sources and made it available to
Somewhat surprisingly, here, Harry is already essentially the stunned, childlike innocent whom he seemed not yet to have developed in his previous two Sennett films and who would bring him his success in his comedy career. He's a little more proactive and violent than later Harry, but this shows he had a handle on his character very early in his film career. As the title suggests, Harry and his new bride, after a funny sequence in which Harry reacts in impotent shock at a series of every conceivable unlucky omen befalls them, end up on a rough ship, with Harry Shanghaied and Alice Day sneaking aboard to be with him.
Already there is a sense in this film that the humor comes out of Harry Langdon's helplessness and reactions rather than the frenetic material typical of a Sennett film. There's some typical knockabout fighting in one scene, but the real laughs come from the fact that while the ship is flooding Harry is meekly trying to get in the line to talk to the captain, then doing his best to get out of the way of his fists. In other funny scenes, the laughs after Harry has accidentally delivered meals of rubber-band soup and cat, the laughs come as he concernedly watches them being eaten, then he expression as he has to eat them himself.
After Alice Day has dressed up as a mustachioed sailor, much of the gags are based in gay-panic humor as Harry tries to evade her advances and runs scared from her kisses. Probably the funniest moment of the short is simply Harry's expression when he's told that he is to bunk up with the slight little sailor who suspiciously tried to hug him earlier.
"Shanghaied Lovers" also introduces the sweet-sad undertone that was such an effective counterpoint in many of Langdon's silent shorts, spending a scene with Harry before the mast as he cries over being unable to be with his new bride (who, little does he know, is just below deck).
The short as a whole has rather that feel of being a disparate collection of gags connected only their setting or situation that a lot of the Sennett films of the time had, but Harry has already, it seems, has had a transformative impact on the house style. It's a very funny short showing Harry Langdon already a truly unique character in the world of comedy working his magic, and we're very lucky to have it viewable again.
When Harry's wedding day is besmirched by a lucky horseshoe falling on
his head and, when he throws it away, smashing a boxful of mirrors,
bride Alice Day chides him that only fools and children are
superstitious. However, when they miss the ship for their honeymoon
cruise and are shanghaied for the China trade, she has to learn a bit
Mack Sennett's staff were still shaping the details of Harry's pixilated naif at this stage of his career, but he had been playing it for more than twenty years on the stage, so his slow, slow reactions under the glaring eyes of his shipmates as he tries to eat a bowlful of rubber bands is spot on. Some of the gags are simple, rrough Sennett fare, but Harry's reactions always make them a little better.
Keep out an eye for Andy Clyde in an early mustachioed performance.
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