This 1938 Harry Langdon shorts, from his brief second stint of production as a headliner for short subjects at Columbia Pictures has retained a certain notoriety in film history even though it is little seen and it's title isn't well-remembered: in an apparent attempt to play himself up as the genius behind Harry Langdon, his former director Frank Capra described seeing this comedy being filmed as if it were some kind of death rattle for a washed-up comedian.
When actually seen "Sue My Lawyer" hold up very well and doesn't suggest to me the tragedy that it did to Capra. Instead, it's evidence of a vastly and uniquely talented comedian producing good work. The first half is full of very funny and characteristic Langdon material that plays very well, but the second half displays many of the hallmarks of its notorious director, Jules White, who resorts too a little too much generic slapstick in the last scenes.
Those first scenes, though, are great. Langdon gets story credit and belies suggestions that eh didn't understand his character with a very Langdon premise. He's often great when on a Quixotic quest for something he has no idea how to achieve. In this case he wants to be assistant district attorney and tries to achieve it by arriving at the district attorney's office every day to pester him.
The opening sequence of gags, with Harry trying to bribe his way in with flowers, shocking himself by finding an apple in his briefcase (actually through a hole in the bottom), then confusing the apple with yarn and trying to eat it, is excellent. As usual the real humor comes from Harry's little gestures and expressions, and plenty of room is left for them here.
Later there's a sequence that plays into Langdon's penchant for minimalism in his comedy: in a shot that must have been very difficult to get, Harry is rocking in a chair and keeps just missing the tail of a cat who flops it away at the last second. The humor comes from about minute's worth of our knowing the cat's screech MUST come at some point.
The sequence where Harry is frightened of the woman's advances and must carry her up the stairs, adapted from his Capra feature The Strong Man, comes off very well and is actually enhanced by the addition of sound, as Harry is very funny telling her to go away because a gentleman and a lady should not be in a room together, and delivering lines like a very sincere-sounding "If you touch me, I'll scream!" This film is also notable because the actor playing the district attorney delivers what must be one of the worst line readings win film history, demanding, "Who do you think you are? Anyway?" In all a very funny short with some great material for Harry Langdon let down in the end by some unremarkable Jules White knockabout, but overall doing more to prove that Harry was still a great comedian at this time than the opposite.
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