Just for laughs

Harry Langdon and Harold Lloyd were two immortal sources of entertainment, says randor guy

Published - September 27, 2014 06:28 pm IST

Harry Langdon and Joan Crawford

Harry Langdon and Joan Crawford

Harry Langdon

Harry Langdon, described as the baby-faced comedian of the Silent Era, has always been sadly underrated. While encomiums are showered on Ben Turpin, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle, Langdon is ignored. A mere glance at classics such as Tramp, Tramp, Tramp,The Strong Man and Long Pants will convince anyone that here was a master of comedy.

In 1925, Photoplay said: “Ask Harold Lloyd who gives him his biggest celluloid laugh. Ask any star. They will all say Langdon.”

Born in 1884 in Iowa, USA, he started life in medicine shows and vaudevilles. His climb to success began in 1926 with Tramp Tramp Tramp, written by Frank Capra and considered one of the finest silent film comedies of all time.

In the film, he lives with his father and they owe rent to the landlord, who threatens to throw them out. Langdon sees posters for a marathon walking race from Massachusetts to California and falls in love with the pretty girl in the poster. He enrols in the race to meet the girl (played by the not-yet famous Joan Crawford) who takes a liking to him and encourages him to run, promising to meet him in California. After many adventures and misadventures, including serving a chain gang sentence, Langdon wins the race defeating his main rival, who is, unknown to him, landlord! He wins the prize money and the pretty girl.

Langdon’s next film, The Strong Man , was directed by Capra, and was followed by Long Pants, again directed by Capra. Soon after, the duo fell out, and Langdon began to take charge of direction for which he was not well-equipped. According to Capra in his bestselling autobiography The Name Above the Title: An Autobiography , the reason was Langdon ‘discovered dames’! Wisecracks apart, Langdon’s career began to slide and he found himself a flop when movies began to talk. Though he made some talkies, they were not a patch on his silent film classics.

At the height of his career, Langdon was earning $7,500 a week, a fortune at the time. He passed away in 1944, a rich man who had his own production company.

Harold Lloyd

A legendary silent film comedian who ranks only next to Charlie Chaplin, Lloyd was not only a comedian but also director, producer, screenwriter and stunt performer. Once, while posing for the publicity shot of a movie holding what he thought was a fake bomb, it exploded and damaged his hand, and he had to use an artificial limb.

He was known as a ‘thrill’ comedian. What does that mean? He specialised in making movies in which he climbed walls without any support and reached the top. He did not use a double and many close-ups of his climbing served as proof to moviegoers. Of course, there was a net below and there were process screen shots (known as ‘back projection’ in Indian cinema) showing the background of the cityscape where the building was situated.

One such movie he made, Safety Last! (1923), became a huge hit, although it may not thrill moviegoers of this computer graphics age. Lloyd hanging from the hands of a clock high above the street in Safety Last! is one of the most enduring images of cinema. Safety Last! is the oldest movie listed in the American Film Institute’s 100 Years... 100 Thrills.

Lloyd wore round, black, horn-rimmed glasses with no lens, which he used to telling effect, earning the name ‘Glasses’ comedian. These became so famous they were a America, fashion statement in the 1920s. Even babies were posed wearing them and photographs taken by proud mothers!

Of his films, mention must be made of Feet First (which finds him clinging to a skyscraper in the climax), Movie Crazy, The Milky Way (a screwball movie) and The Cat’s-Paw .

Lloyd, also a founder member the American Oscar Academy, was more successful than Charlie Chaplin and earned $15.7 million compared to Chaplin’s $10.5 million. He had his own production company, and lived in great style with a palatial mansion in Beverly Hills named Greenacres, with 44 rooms, 26 bathrooms, 12 fountains, 12 gardens, and a golf course. In 1953, he received a special Academy Award for “master comedian and good citizen”. He died at the age of 77 from prostate cancer.

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