Monday, March 12, 2012

Film Review: The Chaser

"The Chaser" *** (out of ****)

With all the talk going on in the news lately by liberals, concerning a "war on women" being waged by conservatives, I thought it would be fun to discuss "The Chaser" (1928) a silent slapstick battle of the sexes comedy starring "the forgotten clown", Harry Langdon.

"The Chaser" was comedian Harry Langdon's second directorial film coming after the unsuccessful (though wrongly condemned in the my opinion) movie "Three's A Crowd" (1927, I've written a review for it).

"Three's A Crowd" was Langdon's attempt at a Charlie Chaplin picture. A movie which wanted to combine comedy and pathos. It had a pretty good set-up though it didn't quite hit the level of pathos found in Chaplin's "The Kid" (1921) for example. In "The Chaser" Langdon must have felt he learned his lesson and this time stuck to pure comedy.

Langdon stars as "the boy". He is married to "the girl" (Gladys McConnell, who also appeared in "Three's A Crowd). She complains Harry is spending too much time at his lodge club. For the past week he has been out as late as 8:30(!). She feels neglected and suspects Harry is fooling around with other women.

The first shot in "The Chaser" is of a close-up of the wife as she relentlessly gives Harry a verbal thrashing over the phone. Poor Harry sits quietly, defenselessly, listening to his wife complain about his behavior. Then Harry's mother-in-law (Helen Hayward) takes the phone and gives Harry her two cents.

Immediately stereotypes are put in place. Women, especially wives, are nothing more than nags, constantly complaining to their husbands. Meanwhile, husbands are defenseless creatures (this part is actually true) who put up with their wives temperament.

Since Harry is our hero, naturally our sympathy must be with him. In fact, Harry is not at a lodge meeting. He is out at a club and merely uses the lodge as an excuse to get out of the house. But, on this particular night "the girl" and her "mother" are not going to put up with Harry's behavior. First the mother tries to shoot Harry when he comes home. Then the girl files for divorce when the murder doesn't happen.

The judge decides divorce is pointless and doesn't grant it. He feels a man like Harry needs to learn responsibility. It is his decision that Harry and his wife switch roles. She will go out and earn a living while Harry must stay home and do the housework. Thus establishing another stereotype, though probably a reality of the times, that all women were housewives and had their place in the kitchen.

The humor of the film now stems from Harry trying to adjust to domestic life. Being able to cook and clean. If that isn't enough, Harry wears an apron in a gesture to completely take away all of his masculinity.

The movie also tries to establish, whoever sees Harry assumes he is a woman. This is despite the fact outside of the apron, nothing in Harry's appearance has changed. The milkman and all other visiting men make passes at Harry. Giving him a peck on the cheek. First of all, this is all extremely strange to watch. Why can't these men tell Harry isn't a woman? Secondly, is this a reflection of the times? Did housewives have to put up with advances being made by the milkman or the postman (is that why he always rings twice?)? Did men feel entitled to make advances at women?

Hitting the depths of despair Harry decides to kill himself. He simply cannot live his life as a housewife. Luckily his friend (Bud Jamison, who will be very well known to Three Stooges fans) sneaks Harry out of the house so they can go play a game of golf.

I suppose this was done so Harry could feel like a "man" again. Though today they would probably watch football or hockey and drink a beer.

At this point the film shifts its attention and abandons the battle of the sexes idea as we get a golf routine by Harry and Jamison. Harry Langdon comedies would usually do this. They would divert their attention from the original premise and side step it for a comedy routine which had nothing at all to do with the rest of the picture.

When I first saw "The Chaser" I didn't like it. I didn't like that Harry abandons his original premise for the golf scenes and I simply didn't find the second half as funny as the first half. But, after watching the film again recently I've changed my mind. Now I think of "The Chaser" as nothing more than a silly, irrelevant comedy which was nothing more than a showcase for Langdon. Plus, one has to remember Langdon was a bit of an odd-ball to begin with and "The Chaser" is a decent enough example of what Harry Langdon was up to.

As a director Langdon shoots this film in a much more conventional style than "Three's A Crowd". When I reviewed "Three's A Crowd" I mentioned how some of Langdon's camera angles made little sense to me. Over head shoots and long shoots didn't compliment jokes. Here Langdon doesn't get as fancy. Which is a good thing. But the movie has nothing visually impressive which might hurt it with some viewers.

I've written about Harry Langdon a few times on this site. I've reviewed "The Strong Man" (1926) directed by Frank Capra, "Long Pants" (1927), "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp" (1927) and "Three's A Crowd". I like Harry Langdon. I feel he doesn't deserves the nickname "the forgotten clown". A majority of his silent film work is now on DVD. Kino and Facets have done a wonderful job restoring his films for all of us to see. Is Langdon as good as Chaplin, Lloyd or Keaton? I really can't say, but, he does belong in their league.

"The Chaser" has a story by Arthur Ripley, a long time collaborator of Langdon's. Ripley worked on some of Langdon's best known films and two-reelers including "Saturday Afternoon" (1926), cited by some of Langdon's best short and "His First Flame" (1927).

If you want to see the battle of the sexes played for melo-drama watch the Greta Garbo movie "The Single Standard" (1929) which I have also reviewed.