"The IMDb Show" Thanksgiving special: Alan Tudyk ranks his top five droids of all time, we track down the cast of Roman J. Israel, Esq., and we share our favorite Thanksgiving TV episodes with memorable sitcom families.
This was the first short subject Harry Langdon starred in for Columbia Pictures. In the early thirties he'd made them for Hal Roach, Educational Pictures, and Paramount, but after landing at Columbia in 1934 he would keep starring in his own series of shorts on and off until his death ten years later. His debut, "Counsel on de Fence" gets things off to a strong, funny start.
This short is also significant in Harry's career because it marks an adaptation of the comedy character he had been playing on screen for a decade now. The totally innocent, babylike fellow who seems to have been born yesterday and dropped into this harsh, complicated world an adult is grown up slightly here, but with no less of the indecision, naiveté, or incomprehension that Harry's comedy relies on. Langdon realizes this transformation well, and it's visually marked by a change in costume from his old baggy comedy costume to dapper business clothes. In addition Harry has grown a little moustache. This addition, however, just looks odd on his overgrown baby, and will be dispensed with. In a great opening image, we see Harry, now dressed like a normal adult and wearing a moustache with a girl on his lap -- but he's staring in stunned wide-eyed incomprehension and we can see it's still the same old Harry in there.
This revision of his character allows him to talk a little more fluently and adapt more effectively to the pace that talking comedies have fallen into (is it an inside joke that the jury laughs at him in this film just based on hearing his voice?) and to be believable in more situations. Here it is still a little shocking that somebody let him be a lawyer, but not so much that it taxes the suspension of disbelief.
If concessions have been made to the pacing of talking comedy, Harry has not given up the pantomime, minimalist comedy that made him, that some said he took too far, and that can seem to hilarious and so odd. Early on he establishes that with a delightful bravura performance: the camera looks at him stilly as he pantomimes out for himself the entire course of a murder so he can figure it out in his head. This tour de force pantomime lasts about two three minutes before the very funny anticlimax: harry announces he can prove the girl is guilty, and is told he's supposed to prove she's not.
The plot here involves an escaped criminal being the lover of one of the partners in Harry's law firm, but as often with him it is secondary: the comedy is in it little bits of business, expressions, and gestures -- such as taking ten seconds or so to figure out why he can put something in his pocket after his clothes have been stolen.
The great black humor that so often goes hand in hand with his character is here: in a twist on a brief reprise of a situation from his earlier feature "Long Pants" in which he must convince a mannequin of a policeman to leave the scene, Harry strangles a passing girl so that she will make a screaming sound. And then there is the concluding gag about Harry getting repeatedly stomach-pumped.
This short sees Harry reunited with director Arthur Ripley, one of his old creative team from his days producing his own films -- and the one responsible for many of their darker themes. This may contribute to the fact that while reestablishing Harry in a retailored comedy persona it is still very true to farm as far as the sources and style of his comedy, and very funny too.
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