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
I'm a big fan of both Harry Langdon and the output of the Hal Roach Studios from this era (as well as shrimp, for what it's worth), and this is the second I've seen of the eight shorts he starred in there. It seems that these two one-of-a-kind comic influences cam together in some pretty strange and unpredictable ways with some quite unforgettable comedies the result. "The Shrimp" is quite funny, and pretty out there.
Harry's naive, lost little boy character works well when he's made a victim of the harsh realities of the real world, and that situation occurs with greater force than ever at the beginning of this film as we start with an extended sequence in which Harry lives in a boarding house where all the other residents delight in constantly playing cruel pranks on him. Harry is funny as usual reacting to these -- but this sequence also serves to set up the cruel world around Harry and his character for something more unusual in of of his films, a science-fiction premise.
This one resembles in concept a bit what would be used later for Charley Chase in "Now We'll Tell One," but of course it plays out very differently. Harry is given a transfusion of the courage of a bulldog by a mad scientist, and how this plays out is the real humor of this film. Langdon's performance is very funny and wonderfully in-character as Harry, stunned by his own new bravery, goes back to the boarding house and retaliates on his neighbors with several hilariously random violent acts designed to show he's the boss. Somehow they're funnier because we can tell Harry, like a little boy, is more concerned with showing us that he's being violent than with actually being violent. Then, of course, he picks fights over random orders like, "You! Stop eating candy!" This short also benefits from the famous Hal Roach stock company of performers; the lovely Thelma Todd has a nice turn as one of Harry tormentors. Not only did she star in her own comedy series, but she was a leading lady for Harry Langdon, Laurel & Hardy, Charley Chase, The Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton, Wheeler & Woolsey, and Jimmy Durante. Not unimpressive. The enjoyably over-the-top mad doctor is the talented Max Davidson, who had a successful series of starring shorts with Roach in the late silent era, but his sound roles were probably limited by his noticeable German accent. The director is Charley Rogers, also an occasional on screen comic. It's good he could build a rapport with Langdon in these film, because he would form half a comedy team with him in a pair of feature comedies years later.
This is a very original and odd -- and pretty memorable -- Langdon comedy. He definitely didn't have to give up on his tendency to black humor when he went over to Hal Roach and the talkies, and that's a good thing in this case.
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