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The Strong Man (1926)

6.8
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A meek Belgian soldier (Harry Langdon) fighting in World War I receives penpal letters and a photo from "Mary Brown", an American girl he has never met. He becomes infatuated with her by ... See full summary »

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Cast

Credited cast:
Harry Langdon ...
Paul Bergot
Priscilla Bonner ...
Mary Brown
Gertrude Astor ...
'Lily' of Broadway
William V. Mong ...
'Holy Joe'
Robert McKim ...
'Mike' McDevitt
Arthur Thalasso ...
'Zandow the Great'
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Douglas Haig
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Storyline

A meek Belgian soldier (Harry Langdon) fighting in World War I receives penpal letters and a photo from "Mary Brown", an American girl he has never met. He becomes infatuated with her by long distance. After the war, the young Belgian journeys to America as assistant to a theatrical "strong man", Zandow the Great (Arthur Thalasso). While in America, he searches for Mary Brown... and he finds her, just as word comes that Zandow is incapacitated and the little nebbish must go on stage in his place. Written by Dan Navarro <daneldorado@yahoo.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

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Comedy

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Release Date:

19 September 1926 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Atleta à Força  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Connections

Edited into Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America (1997) See more »

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User Reviews

 
"The Master will destroy you"
7 May 2011 | by (Ruritania) – See all my reviews

For silent comics, the mark of "graduation" was the move from two-reel shorts to full-length features. Chaplin fought hard against his studio for the right to do so, and other legends like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd only really considered themselves fully-fledged when they began making longer movies. Conversely however, there are some not-so-good figures in silent comedy whose reputation and stature is disproportionate to their actual quality, simply because they managed to knock together a few full-length pictures.

Harry Langdon has sometimes been called the fourth genius of silent comedy, after the aforementioned Messrs. Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd. A quick glance at The Strong Man however shows him to be rather a second-league comic. As a comedy character, he was something of a follower. With his shabby tramp's outfit, he seems to have modelled himself as a new Chaplin, and he also assumes the deadpan look of Keaton. But while at times he does a passing impression of these two greats, he simply doesn't have the necessary inventiveness or smoothness to his act. A lot of the gags seem to be slight re-workings of someone else's material. The scene where a row of pews fall down like a line of dominoes I believe is taken from Harold Lloyd's The Freshman. But above all Langdon's comic persona is simply lacking in charm. Remember that Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd were also great actors – they knew how to give their absurd creations that human edge. Langdon on the other hand is little more than a glorified sidekick.

One of the reasons so much undeserved attention has been furnished on Langdon's career is that The Strong Man and its follow up Long Pants were directed by a young Frank Capra, and because Capra later made some very fine pictures there seems to be an assumption that this makes everything he did automatically good. At this point however the director had a lot of ego and very little experience, and this is literally the worst piece of slapstick direction I have ever seen. Rather than letting sequences play out, he seems to be constantly changing camera angle for no reason. There's a particularly clunky moment when Zandow paddles Langdon's ass, and a cut occurs halfway through the paddle swing. Capra also uses close-ups to hammer a gag home, such as the iris in on the squashed hat, as if to say "It's a joke! Please laugh now!" His techniques often give the unnecessary weight to unimportant moments, such as the tracking shot of the gangster's moll trying to evade the private dick. It gives too personal an introduction to the character and makes it look as if she is going to be important to the plot – but she isn't. Later Capra, presumably attempting to inject a bit of Chaplin-esque poignancy, holds a lengthy shot of Priscilla Bonner as she finally meets Langdon. Unfortunately Bonner doesn't really act well enough to merit such scrutiny, and the moment just looks overlong and awkward.

And finally, when you look at The Strong Man as a whole, there doesn't really seem to be much purpose or structure to it. The first half-hour is a handful of rather disparate ideas cobbled together, like two shorts edited into one. We then go off on a ten-minute diversion, without Langdon or any form of comedy, as another branch of the plot is established. There is a whole big thing about Langdon's girl turning out to be blind, and her wondering how she can tell him – but this suddenly becomes a non-issue when they meet. In effect the picture looks as if it has been partly spliced together from a few short pictures, while some vague unifying storyline has been rushed into production after a hasty first draft. In which case, what was the point in Langdon making a full-length feature? Coupled with Capra's amateurish direction and Langdon's own lack of star quality, this is a disappointingly unprofessional affair.


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