Harry Shelby receives his first pair of long pants. He immediately falls in love with a cocaine-smuggling flapper named Bebe. When Bebe is imprisoned, Harry decides to rescue her. To do so,...
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Harry Shelby receives his first pair of long pants. He immediately falls in love with a cocaine-smuggling flapper named Bebe. When Bebe is imprisoned, Harry decides to rescue her. To do so, Harry must break-off his forthcoming wedding to his childhood sweetheart Priscilla by any means necessary, including murder.
52 feet of this feature, depicting Harry's daydream as a gallant lover who must fight for the hand of a beautiful maiden, Alma Bennett, was shot in 2-strip Techncolor, but does not survive. This may account for some sources calling it a seven-reel film instead of a six-reeler, even though the originally promoted Technicolor reel actually consisted of less than one minute's actual footage in the final release prints. See more »
Making a comedy movie isn't just about firing off jokes for an hour or two. The audience needs a bit more of an experience. That's why the greatest screen comics of olden times were also great storytellers, and created for themselves comedy characters who were likable as well as funny. Harry Langdon was one of a small number of slapstick comedians from the silent era who made the leap from shorts to full-length features. However, unlike his mightier contemporaries Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, Langdon's screen persona simply didn't have the weight to take on such an endeavour.
Long Pants sees the baby-faced comic step into Harold Lloyd territory as a shy youngster making his first awkward steps with the ladies. Here the similarities end though. Even with his cherubic features, the forty-three year old Langdon was perhaps pushing it a bit as a teen getting his first pair of eponymous pants. Furthermore whereas Lloyd had a sort of geeky charm, Langdon is at best bland, and at worst a little bizarre, here verging on the outright disturbing. After Harold falls for a vampish femme fatale, he has to finish things with the sweet and innocent girl-next-door he was previously engaged to. Some people would do this with a note, others with a sit-down talk. Langdon decides to lure the girl in to the woods with the intention of killing her. This sort of thing may be acceptable if you're the guitarist in a Norwegian black metal band, but not if you're a supposedly sympathetic comedy character. Langdon doesn't actually succeed in bumping her off, and his bungled attempt to do so is actually one of the vaguely funnier moments in Long Pants, but regardless of that we're being asked to root for some kind of Jeffrey Dahmer type, and the audience will be lost.
The other big problem with Harry Langdon is that he simply isn't very funny. He doesn't have that ability to conjure up comedy from his environment or his props, and the gags don't exactly flow. Granted, a lot of Langdon's style is in his reactions and his funny ways of doing things, but even in this area Langdon is second-rate, doing poor copies of Chaplin's mannerisms and Keaton's deadpan expressions. Of course, a lot of the fault here lies with the writers of Long Pants, and its director Frank Capra. Capra was always a massive egotist, later shown in the way he tried to claim complete authorship for his greatest pictures, but back at this stage it comes out in his camera-work. For Long Pants he uses all sorts of showy techniques, mobile point-of-view shots, god shots looking down over action, all quite unnecessary for silent comedy. It looks like the work of some green film student trying to get himself noticed. Compared to his even weaker direction for Langdon's The Strong Man, Capra at least seems to be learning the rudiments of physical comedy direction, a good set-up being the one where a cop is in the foreground making a telephone call, while Harry completely oblivious is cracking open a crate behind him. He is also now allowing scenes to play out without lots of cutting. It's just a shame Langdon isn't really worthy of such lengthy attention.
Unlike the moderate successes of The Strong Man and its predecessor, Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (which is actually in my view the best, or rather least worst Langdon picture), Long Pants was a box-office flop. As oppose to Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd, whose stars only began to fade once the talkies came along, it's fairly clear Langdon was a fad who disappeared as quickly as he emerged. And the main reason I have consistently compared him to those three is that he is occasionally touted as the "fourth" genius of silent comedy, a title he is a long way off meriting. In the recent resurge of interest he has enjoyed, he has been branded as "The Forgotten Clown" and "Chaplin-esque", or had his links to Frank Capra emphasised, even though the two Capra-directed Langdon pictures are hardly representative of the director's entire output. Many avid buffs will no doubt want to check Langdon out if only out of curiosity, but those who are purely fans of good quality comedy would be better off steering clear.
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