The Chaser is, admittedly, not all of a piece. It has some successful parts, several misfires and lacks the quality of Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the most coherent of Harry Langdon's features and one that balances a dramatic narrative with comic invention. The Chaser appears to be several short films welded together (as does The Strong Man). However this device of patching several two-reelers together for a features is much the formula for other comedians' feature films of the period (Laurel & Hardy among them). After all, the guys who wrote scenarios for feature-length films were the same guys who devised the one- and two-reelers. Because Harry Langdon came to Hollywood years after Ben Turpin, Roscoe Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin, Olver Hardy, Stanley Laurel, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton had established themselves, critics inevitably compared Langdon to some of them: most notably Chaplin. Rather than emulate Chaplin, Harry Langdon sought to preserve his established comic character that he developed in vaudeville. His soured view of the world was more akin to W. C. Fields' than Chaplin's. Congratulations to previous reviewers, Chris Peterson and, especially, Rodrigo Valenzuela, for reviewing The Chaser with unbiased minds and for keeping up with contemporary research and for knowing something about the circumstances under which The Chaser was made. 1) First National Pictures, being acquired by Warners, was keeping everyone on tight budgets. Vitaphone (also part of the Warner Brothers/First National/Vitaphone family) had released the first commercially viable sound shorts in 1926, when there were only about 100 theatres equipped for sound. However, as Jack Warner expected, that number doubled in a year and by 1928 most of the better motion picture exhibitors were "okay for sound," and Warners was counting on sound features to make them a major studio. Unlike Chaplin and Lloyd, both Buster Keaton and Harry Langdon did not "own" themselves, and were forced to continue making silent comedies for several years into the sound era. MGM and Warners saved the expense of making sound movies for musicals and what they deemed "prestige dramas." 2) Harry Langdon spent more than 20 years in vaudeville. By the time he came to movies in 1924, just a few years before the sound revolution, he had been a headliner in big-time vaudeville for years. He did not need anyone, especially a relative greenhorn like Frank Capra, to "invent" a comic characterization for him. Harry's hen-pecked, slow-to-react comedic persona was well developed as is evidenced by descriptions of his vaude act, "Johnny's New Car." 3) Frank Capra was good at devising gags for Mack Sennett and Harry Langdon. Capra became a great movie director after he left Harry Langdon's employ, but he was as ambitious and self-serving as he was gifted. GHis autobiography is suspect and was his chance to settle old scores. Capra saw Langdon as a tool to propel him into prominence. But Capra clashed with Arthur Ripley, Harry Edwards and Harry Langdon. Between First National's cuts to Harry Langdon's production company's budgets and dissension in the creative process, someone had to go, and it was Capra who fought with Harry and Harry's other writers and directors. Also, Capra, as is apparent by his later films, was not in tune with Langdon's established comic character and the dark side of humanity explored by Langdon and his more sympatico writers/directors. 4) Langdon, indeed, did allow his long-time unhappy marriage (his wife had been in Harry's vaude act) to influence his choice of material. Most artists do mine their own lives for material. That Harry did not do as dispassionately or fairly as some may wish is subject to debate. I, for one, would have preferred more objectivity on Harry's part. Still, The Chaser is a fairly good comedy, no worse than all but the few best of the late 1920s.
5 out of 8 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.