Harry Shelby has been kept in knee pants for years by his overprotective parents, but the day finally comes when Harry is given his first pair of long pants. Almost immediately, he is ...
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Socially-conscious banker Thomas Dickson faces a crisis when his protégé is wrongly accused for robbing the bank, gossip of the robbery starts a bank run, and evidence suggests Dickson's wife had an affair...all in the same day.
Harry Shelby has been kept in knee pants for years by his overprotective parents, but the day finally comes when Harry is given his first pair of long pants. Almost immediately, he is expected to marry his childhood sweetheart Priscilla... but instead, Harry's first heady whiff of manhood has got him panting after Bebe, a "fast" woman from the big city. Mistakenly thinking that Bebe fancies him too, Harry risks everything to help her out when she lands in jail, only to end up in hot water himself. Through it all, sweet Priscilla waits for her man to come to his senses. Written by
Dan Navarro <email@example.com>
Director Frank Capra's final film with Harry Langdon. In his autobiography, Capra stated that after critics called Langdon "another Chaplin [Charles Chaplin]", Langdon tried to tell Capra how to do his job. After Capra confronted Langdon privately and dressed him down for his egotistical behavior, Langdon had him fired from his staff. See more »
Unfortunately, Harry Langdon's last "great" comedy isn't so great
Harry Langdon's brief career as a top-ranked silent comic stands as a good definition of "meteoric." He was a late bloomer, already pushing 40 (though eerily baby-faced) when he was signed to make shorts for the Mack Sennett Studio in 1923, but his rise to popularity was rapid, and within three years he was starring in feature films while highbrow critics such as Robert E. Sherwood sang his praises. And yet, within two more years he was floundering, and by the '30s Harry was just another aging trouper, slogging his way through low-budget talkies, often re-workings of his best silent material.
Clues to this sudden and mysterious downfall are not hard to find: one need look no further than the opening credits of his films. Although he was a gifted performer, Langdon owed much of his success to the creative team assisting him on the Sennett lot, Harry Edwards, Arthur Ripley and Frank Capra, who helped him shape his child-man persona and seemingly understood the character better than Langdon did himself. Capra exaggerated his own role in later years, but he did know how to efficiently craft funny, satisfying comedies. This becomes clear when one compares Langdon's first three feature films, all of which involved Capra as either writer or director, to the features made after Capra was fired (i.e. just after Long Pants finished production), when Langdon took over the directing chores himself, with wobbly results. The conclusion is inescapable: Harry's best work was crafted by a team.
Long Pants is the third of the features generally said to be Langdon's best, and the last one made before the descent into sentimentality and weirdness that drove audiences away. But frankly I've never been able to enjoy this film much, and in viewing it again it looks to me like Harry was already losing it, Capra or no Capra, despite the occasional funny moments. The introductory sequence is promising, but once the story proper gets rolling the enterprise goes awry.
Harry is presented as something of a freak, an aging boy-man in short pants who lives vicariously through romance novels but still lives at home with his parents. When his father brings home a pair of long trousers -- apparently, Harry's first pair -- the mother states that keeping him at home in shorts has kept him out of trouble. The uncomfortable implication is that Harry is "special" and can't handle the pressures of the world outside the family home. Once Harry dons his long pants, ventures outside, and starts interacting with others, we suspect that Mom was right: the Harry we find here isn't merely a simple soul, he's disturbingly stunted, almost moronic. We get the queasy feeling we're being encouraged to laugh at a simpleton.
This queasiness kicks in early, when Harry instantly falls in love with bad girl Bebe, who is passing through town, and decides that he must therefore kill Priscilla, the sweet hometown girl his parents want him to marry. As Mark Twain demonstrated there is legitimate (if dark) humor in examining the thought processes of an immature mind, so when Harry fantasizes about taking Priscilla out to the woods and shooting her, well, it's dark all right, but not necessarily fatal to successful comedy. However, the mood changes when Harry actually attempts to carry out the murder. We're supposed to find humor in Harry's clumsiness, in his ineptitude as an assassin, while dim-bulb Priscilla remains doggedly unaware of what he's trying to do. It's one thing when Laurel & Hardy fail at building a house or fixing a boat, we can all relate to that, but it's something else again to watch while this pasty-faced man-child attempts to bump off his girlfriend -- who, it would appear, is almost as mentally limited as he is. In a word, it's icky.
To make matters worse, all of Harry's choices in this story are motivated by an unworthy object: the girl he's fallen for, Bebe, isn't just naughty, she's a career criminal and a drug smuggler, as revealed in a letter she receives in her introductory scene. (One genuinely funny touch, probably unintended, is her correspondent's fastidiousness in using quotation marks when referring to the "snow.") Everything Harry does is motivated by his delusional love for Bebe, a result of his excruciatingly limited experience of the world. Was Harry's Mom right in locking him up?
During the 'failed murder' sequence another of the film's flaws surfaces: many of the gags feel labored, with unusual props suddenly appearing in unlikely places, apparently just to give Harry the opportunity to be funny, extend a sequence, or conclude it. Items such as guns, light bulbs, changes of clothing, a ventriloquist dummy, and even an alligator turn up at the darnedest times, but our enjoyment is undercut by the knowledge that a team of gag writers obviously worked overtime to think up these gags. It's also worth mentioning that the editing of Long Pants is curiously sloppy, and I'm referring not to the rough jumps that are common in older films when bits of film are missing, but rather to the jarring moments which result when the images or movements in a medium or long shot don't quite match after an edit because the shots weren't properly trimmed. There are several of these moments I noticed, but then, the firing of director Frank Capra just after principle photography was concluded might have had something to do with this film's somewhat rushed look.
For Harry Langdon at his best I recommend The Strong Man, or the better short comedies made for Sennett. But for me, Long Pants stands as a strange and unsatisfying milestone in the unhappy career of Harry Langdon, who could have achieved so much more with the proper guidance.
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