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Fiddlesticks (1927)

Harry will do anything to be a musician, but it takes a junk collector to discover his hidden talents.

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Harry Hogan
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Prof. Von Tempo / Junk Dealer
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Storyline

Is there a place in the world for Harry Hogan. On the day his parents and burly brothers kick him out of the house for never earning money - and whiling away his time taking music lessons, his teacher, Professor Von Tempo, gives Harry a music diploma to get rid of him. Harry's so bad that Von Tempo's neighbors complain during his lessons. Armed with the diploma, Harry sets out to seek his fortune. He spends the night in a flea-bag hotel, figures out how to get his bass fiddle out of the room without paying for the lodging, and looks for a gig. On his first day, he joins Von Tempo's street band and he meets Penrod the rag picker. Which encounter will prove fateful? Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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junk | musician | See All (2) »

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Comedy | Short

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27 November 1927 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Harry Langdon in his prime: amusing, sweet, and kind of odd
31 May 2003 | by (Westchester County, NY) – See all my reviews

It was poignant but not surprising a few years back when Kino Video offered several Harry Langdon comedies for sale under the series title "The Forgotten Clown." Even during his heyday Langdon was never a huge celebrity like Chaplin, or a box office champ like Harold Lloyd; he had a devoted following, but was more of a critics' darling than a universally beloved star. Viewed today, his comedies are often slow in tempo, whimsical in tone, highly idiosyncratic, sometimes downright bizarre, and very much an acquired taste. If you're looking for belly-laughs you should look elsewhere, for although Langdon's comedies can be quite funny they're not gag-driven. The best of Langdon's films are amusing, quirky mood pieces built around a curiously passive, child-man protagonist you may find appealing, lovable, or perhaps icky. I tend to enjoy him, but can see why some people can't stand him. There's something undeniably eerie about a man in his 40s who looks and behaves like a kid -- and a weird, pasty-faced kid at that -- but when the act works, it works, and Harry can exert a powerful charisma.

For those curious about Langdon, Fiddlesticks is a pretty good introduction. This was among the last of the films he made for Mack Sennett before departing for First National to make features. Langdon was never really a Sennett-style comic to begin with, but, after a shaky start at the studio, he found the ideal team of collaborators and they concocted some highly enjoyable comedies. In Fiddlesticks Langdon was working with his dream team, including director Harry Edwards and writer Frank Capra; Edwards reached his own career peak working with Langdon, while of course Capra was just getting started. Harry's co-star, as usual, is Vernon Dent, who has a real showcase here in two sharply contrasting roles, first as a balding music teacher and later as a crafty junk dealer. Dent's characterizations (and makeup jobs) are so distinctly different you might not realize at first that the same actor plays both parts.

Nevertheless, Harry is the star of the show, quite sympathetic here in his efforts to become a professional musician. Because the film is silent we can only imagine what a poor job he's doing, but that's the story here, and the main joke: it's the reaction of the other characters to Harry's (obviously awful) attempts at music-making that drives the plot. The focal point of the film is Harry's characterization, and he's fascinating, even when he isn't doing anything especially funny. Towards the end there's a sight gag involving a pocket watch that is probably the funniest gag in the whole movie, but it seems strangely out of place, since it's the sort of business that could have been used by Andy Clyde or Billy Bevan or any of Sennett's other comics. Harry Langdon, at his best, didn't really need gags, at least not conventional ones. He's funnier, or more "himself" anyway, during a sequence at a pawnshop when he is forced to buy back his own bass fiddle from a pawnbroker who mistakenly believes it's part of his merchandise. The solution to the problem is pure Langdon: more clever than funny perhaps, but unique to this comedian's special style.

Fiddlesticks can serve as a sort of Langdon litmus test for viewers. If it seems pointless, proceed no further; but if you enjoy it, as I do, you may be a Harry Langdon fan and there's more good stuff where this one came from.


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