Saturday, October 23, 2010

Film Review: Tramp, Tramp, Tramp

"Tramp, Tramp, Tramp" ** (out of ****)

Having only reviewed Charlie Chaplin in "The Circus" (1928) yesterday, readers may know of my great appreciation for silent comedy and my interest in reviewing films and comedians which time has forgotten. That leads us to this Harry Langdon comedy "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp" (1926).

I've written about Harry Langdon on here before. I reviewed "The Strong Man" (1926) often considered Langdon's best feature film and "The Long Pants" (1927) both were directed by Frank Capra. Those two films, along with "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp" are generally believed to be the highlights of Langdon's film career. I'm a fan of "The Strong Man" and "The Long Pants" but this film leaves me cold.

"Tramp, Tramp, Tramp", which gets its title from the famous George F. Root song, written during the Civil War (I have no idea what the connection is between that song and this movie), has Langdon play Harry Logan, son of Amos Logan (Alec B. Francis) who runs a mom & pop (minus the mom) shoe repair store which has fallen on hard times thanks to a major shoe company, Burton Shoes, run by John Burton (Edwards Davis). Amos is behind on his rent, and when his landlord, the world champion walker, Nick Kargas (Tom Murray) comes to pick up the rent, Amos begs for more time. Nick gives him three months. Now it is up to Harry to find a way to collect money fast.

John Burton is producing a huge publicity stunt, a cross country walking race. All the contestants will be wearing Burton shoes. Nick Kargas is one of the competitors. Harry decides to join the race too.

Harry is in love with Burton's daughter, Betty (Joan Crawford), whose face is on Burton billboards. Harry would love to meet her one day. When they do meet it appears to be love at first sight.

So far all of this sounds pretty good. It is your typical story of the everyman fighting the odds to success. Save the family business and get the beautiful girl.

But it is the way the material is played out which just doesn't feel correct. The film has too many missed opportunities. It doesn't connect all the dots and take full advantage of all the storyline possibilities. There isn't enough comedy, romance or suspense.

It's easy to complain, right? So how would I have changed things. First of all, it would have been a better idea if Amos and John knew each and were fighting over the same customers. The two aren't even in the same state. Secondly, the Harry character needs a rival. Someone who wants to see him and the family business fail. This could have been the Nick Kargas character. It was also a bad idea to make him a landlord. He should have been sent by Burton to win the race. Third, Burton should have been trying to buy Amos' business for the land so he could expand Burton shoes. Fourth, both Nick and Harry should have fallen in love with Betty. Each man trying to win the race not only for the cash prize, $25,000 but also to win Betty's heart.

These changes would have supplied the film with more suspense, as now you can create more tension over who will win the race, even though we probably know the answer to that question at the start of the film. It would have given us more comedy, as now Harry must prove his manhood and that is always funny. Did you ever try to impress a girl and make a fool of yourself in the process? And romance because Betty would have to chose one of the men to win and they would use her as a source of inspiration.

Instead "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp", like most Langdon comedies, gets side tracked with comedy routines which don't belong in the picture. This time around Harry finds himself arrested, part of a prison gang which eventually leads to a prison break! What this has to do with the rest of the film is beyond me. It never should have found its way into this film. It takes time away from the race and character development which could have been created.

"Tramp, Tramp, Tramp" doesn't give us enough scenes dealing with the race and the effects it has on the men. We should see Harry emotionally beaten. Perhaps a scene where he dreams of winning the race and what it would be like to win Betty's hand. Or even a scene where he writes a postcard to her, letting her know which state he is in. And how about sending one to his father as well.

And, if Nick would have been portrayed as a rival, how about a scene with him creating complications for Harry. Stealing his clothes. Locking him in his room. Or trying to cause some physical harm to come his way.

As it stands now "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp" is nothing more than a vehicle for Langdon and it pretty much waste everyone else, especially Joan Crawford, who wasn't a major star just yet. She had only made her film debut a year earlier and would achieve greater success a year later in the Lon Chaney film "The Unknown" (1927) and really break out in the social melodrama "Our Dancing Daughters" (1928) which I have reviewed.

Still the film is not a complete dud. There are some humorous bits. Some of the gags seemed to have been inspired by other films. Take for example a scene where Harry climbs over a fence which reads "private. No trespassing" Only to find out nothing is on the other side. Harry is atop of a mountain and hangs onto the fence for fear of falling. It may remind some viewers of the famous scene in the Harold Lloyd comedy "Safety Last!" (1923) where Lloyd hangs onto the hands of a giant clock dangling from the side of a building.

Another bit has Harry sliding down the mountain when some rocks starts to tumble down after him. This recalls the Buster Keaton comedy "Seven Chances" (1925) where Keaton is running away from a mob of women, running down a hill as huge boulders chase after him.

And finally another sequence seems to have been inspired by Chaplin's "The Gold Rush" (1925) when Harry is inside of a shop which tilts left to right just like in the famous scene with Chaplin when stuck in the log cabin as a violent winds tilts it.

But in one comedic set-up "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp" appears to have been ahead of the curb. The film ends with a cyclone storm, which could have inspired the finale to the Keaton comedy "Steamboat Bill, Jr." (1928). At one moment in "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp" I thought the front frame of a house was going to fall forward on Harry.

When "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp" was made, it was Langdon's first feature film release. He had made his screen debut only two years prior in a Mack Sennett two reeler "Picking Peaches" (1924). I don't think this film does as good a job as the two reelers do in establishing all the elements of the Langdon "man-child" character. Though, one could argue, audiences may have been familiar with the character and knew what to expect.

At its time of release Langdon was a major star. Some have suggested his fame rivaled Chaplin's. There were those in the public and critics which dubbed him "the next Chaplin". The fame was short lived however. Within the next few years Langdon would be washed up. Unfairly in my opinion.

The film was directed by Harry Edwards, who normally didn't direct feature films. He did direct several of Langdon's two reelers including "Saturday Afternoon" (1926), considered to be Harry's best, "His Marriage Wow" (1925), "The Hansome Cabman" (1924) and "Luck O' the Foolish" (1924). The only other feature length film with Langdon he directed was "His First Flame" (1927), also a lesser effort.

Those looking to expand upon their silent comedy knowledge would be doing themselves a favor in watching Harry Langdon. He has earned the nickname "the forgotten clown". But it doesn't need to be so. While I don't think "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp" shows Harry at his best, others films do and some of the two reelers are enjoyable as well. It is time people give Harry another look.