Harry leaves home to become a doctor, but winds up with "Doc" Healy's Medicine Show.

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, (titles) (as A.H. Giebler) | 1 more credit »
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Harry Lamb
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Señorita Mazda
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Hiram Healy
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Astronomer
Tiny Ward ...
Baggage Handler
Ruth Taylor ...
Minor Role
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Storyline

Henry Lamb sits listlessly on a curb. A sidewalk fortune teller with a telescope tells Henry he has a lucky star, and that if he follows it, he'll become a doctor, travel far, and meet a dark lady. Henry now has a purpose. With the wad of money he's saved, he boards a train, meets Dr. Healy, goes with Healy to the Mexican town of San Tabasco, and sees the lovely Mazda looking down on him from a balcony. Is everything just as his fortune foretold? Has he indeed followed his lucky star? Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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Comedy | Short

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16 August 1925 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Medicine Man  »

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1.33 : 1
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Mr. Deeds Goes to San Tabasco
31 May 2008 | by (Westchester County, NY) – See all my reviews

Anyone interested in silent clown Harry Langdon should take a look at this unusual two-reel short. Lucky Stars is definitely not the funniest movie Langdon ever made—in fact, it's hardly a comedy at all in the conventional sense—but it is an intriguing, memorable film that serves as an ideal showcase for Harry's child-like screen persona while providing a colorful role for Vernon Dent, Langdon's frequent screen cohort. Buffs interested in the career of Frank Capra will also want to catch this one, for he co-authored the story, and you don't have to be an "auteurist" to detect familiar themes Capra the director would go on to explore in greater depth in his classics of the '30s.

The version of Lucky Star restored for DVD release in 2007 opens with an eerie theme by a band called the Snark Ensemble, one that suggests we're about to see a some kind of mystery or even a ghost story, and as the film rolls along the music comes to feel oddly appropriate. In the prologue our leading man Harry Lamb is introduced gazing skyward, while an astronomer peers through an enormous telescope and predicts his future. "Follow that star and you'll win fame and fortune," asserts the soothsayer, adding that the star indicates he'll be a doctor, and he will take a long journey and fall in love with a dark woman. Naturally Harry swallows all this as the gospel truth, and sets out to follow his star of destiny. Perhaps we're meant to accept the astronomer's prophecy as valid, but whether he's a charlatan or a genuine prophet remains unknown, because our hapless hero promptly boards the wrong train and heads off in the wrong direction. The unfortunate events that befall Harry ever after his fateful mistake can be regarded as cosmic punishment, and a warning to the viewer, i.e.: when a soothsayer gives you instructions follow them to the letter, or THIS may happen to you! No wonder the music sounds so ominous.

On the train Harry meets Hiram Healy, an old-fashioned medicine show con man. Healy is played by Vernon Dent, dressed in the Barnum-like costume of a 19th century huckster, recognizable as such to anyone—except Harry, of course. In hopes of being trained to become a great doctor, gullible Harry hands over his entire bankroll to the quack. "I can teach you all I know in a very short time," promises Healy, and we believe him. After a lapse of time the duo arrive in a Latin American village called San Tabasco, presumably south of the border in Mexico. (It's certainly not in the Southwestern U.S., because wherever this is, Prohibition is not in effect. Saloons are open and beer flows freely in San Tabasco.) The entrepreneurs set up their platform in the public square and promise the residents a medicine show: Healy delivers the spiel while Harry strums a "Hawaiian banjo." Here's where it becomes clear that Lucky Stars is not going to unfold like a routine comedy short; that is, this is where Langdon and his collaborators defy our expectations. For starters, and despite its funny name, San Tabasco is depicted in a surprisingly straightforward, non-comic fashion. As soon as we see the stucco buildings and men wearing sombreros we expect typical silent comedy gags, i.e. bits involving corrupt officials, stubborn burros, and perennial siestas, etc., but there's very little of that sort of thing. We also notice that the film's production values are far beyond the normal range of a two-reel comedy: San Tabasco looks like a real village. Most of these scenes take place at night, and the cinematography is notably stylish and atmospheric. When Healy begins his spiel and the curious crowd gathers, we sense that something bad is going to happen, and the mood turns genuinely suspenseful. Soon Harry encounters a dark woman and assumes the prophecy is coming true, but he couldn't be more wrong. She's the daughter of a local druggist, furious that these medicine show quacks are hurting her father's business, and willing to do whatever it takes to foil them, even if that means murdering Harry. I won't give away the ending, but on first viewing I found it abrupt, perhaps because it seemed there was plentiful material here for a longer story. Lucky Stars is a two-reel comedy that looks like a feature film, and I wish it had become one.

I first saw this short at NYC's Film Forum in the early 1990s, when it was shown as a curtain-raiser at a festival devoted to the work of Frank Capra. It fit the bill nicely. Capra wrote the story in collaboration with Arthur Ripley, and the director in this case was Langdon's longtime colleague Harry Edwards, but Lucky Stars still feels like an embryonic Capra movie, perhaps because the Harry Lamb we meet here is a prototype for Capra's later Everyman heroes, such as Mr. Deeds and Mr. Smith. Harry is far too other-worldly to be an "Everyman," but Deeds and Smith resemble him in that they're also innocents who leave their hometowns and venture out into a dangerous world full of crooks, con artists, and other predators, and are very nearly defeated. Mr. Deeds and Mr. Smith triumph over the phonies and crooks in the end, while Harry just barely survives his misadventures and doesn't ultimately triumph, apparently because he followed the wrong star. This offbeat premise may not satisfy all tastes, and newcomers to Langdon may want to seek out some of his more conventional comedies before seeing this one, but for viewers open to off-beat silent comedy Lucky Stars remains a unique experience, a special short that's unlike anything else made by Langdon or any of his contemporaries.


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