A timid man is the butt of practical jokes in a boarding house. He likes the proprietors' daughter Nancy, and she encourages him to stick up for himself, but he can't find the will or the strength. Then, he reads about a scientific breakthrough: a doctor has found a way to inject the personality of a bulldog into timid humans. He volunteers for a treatment, and soon he's storming toward the boarding house to put his tormentors in their place. Will he succeed or will something in the nature of things keep him living a dog's life? Written by
Like most of the great silent film comedians Harry Langdon struggled to regain his footing when talkies came along. Harry, whose place in the top echelon was already slipping prior to the sound revolution, kept plugging away with varying degrees of success but never attained the heights reached in his best silent movies. If you're curious about his work seek out the feature-length The Strong Man, a genuine delight, or his Sennett shorts from 1924-26. But if you're interested in Langdon's talkies The Shrimp is an enjoyable comedy that holds special appeal for film buffs.
The plot is a barely-disguised reworking of the basic situation from W.C. Fields' 1927 silent feature Running Wild, in which a timid man undergoes a personality change, becoming newly assertive and avenging himself on the bullies who formerly tormented him. It's gratifying to see the worm turn, though a little troubling to observe that this makes both Fields and Langdon bullies themselves in the final scenes of these films. For me the situation works better in this short than it does in the Fields feature, and it suits Langdon better than it did Fields. Harry was certainly well cast as the put-upon "Shrimp" of the early scenes. His voice matched his eerily childlike face --hard to believe he was in his mid-40s here-- and his performance feels more assured than in some of his other sound films from this period. (That said, there's a surprising moment in his opening scene where Harry fluffs a line, the kind of thing you find only in early talkies. But somehow it fits Harry's persona.) Most of the story is set in a boarding house, where Harry is the timid lodger who is bullied by practically everyone in the household. Jim Mason, an actor who specialized in playing nasty characters, is Harry's number one enemy.
Langdon was working at the Hal Roach Studio at this time, so the film benefits from the presence of contract players Max Davidson and the gorgeous Thelma Todd in supporting roles; Davidson is especially fun as a mad doctor in a white lab coat, ranting like a loony as he explains to an audience of medical students how he's going give Harry the courage of a bulldog. Rather than "courage" the new Harry comes off more like a crazed Mr. Hyde, but it's undeniably satisfying to watch him retaliate against obnoxious bully Mason. Speaking of Mr. Hyde, the climactic scene where Harry fights back features a startling overhead camera shot that looks like something out of a horror movie.
It may not rank with his very best work, but The Shrimp is an amusing short which demonstrates that Harry Langdon could rise to the occasion in talkies with decent material and support.
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