Saturday, March 14, 2009

who's that girl?

You will never guess who this is. NO WAY will you guess who this is:

Yes, she is an actress. As big as they get. An A+ list actress whose career stretched all the way from Erich von Stroheim to Steve Speilberg. We see her here as the female lead in a Harry Langdon film.

But anyone, even the female lead, in a Harry Langdon film is pretty much there as a prop. She was probably cast because she was still unknown, for the most important person in any Harry Langdon film always was...

For about one year, near the end of the silent era, Harry Langdon was BIG. Big enough to be a before-the-Main-Title actor.

Harry Langdon played a "man-child".

An innocent, awkward, slightly self-unaware man who gets into extraordinary predicaments either by accident or by oversight and manages to stumble his way out of them the same way.

And in the end he gets the girl!

Langdon films were highly produced with many elaborate effects, perhaps influenced by Buster Keaton.

Here's a room that could only exist in the alternate universe of silent slapstick:

But the thing that struck me most when I first saw him was the he seemed to be imitating Stan Laurel. Same mannerisms, same facial expressions. But while Stan Laurel had been acting in movies thru the 1920's he hadn't developed "Stan Laurel" yet, so I have to presume that Laurel was actually borrowing from Langdon.

Langdon's career collapsed after 1927. Opinions vary as to why, but he kept working in film in minor roles up until his death in 1944 and even got teamed with Oliver Hardy for one feature when Laurel was in a contract dispute.

And the actress? She got bigger and bigger and became one of the icons of golden age Hollywood. See if you recognize her name in this cast list:

Here's Carol Burnett as Joan as Mildred:


Anonymous said...

Oh come on...the eyes gave it away. I've played a 1927 silent called "The Unknown" with Crawford and Lon Chaney. As I tell audiences, she was at the beginning of her career and just learning to stare.

The Laurel/Langdon innocent doofus was an established vaudeville schtick, as was the crooked room (see One Week, 1923, with Buster Keaton).

Robert said...

I've seen the Lon Chaney movie, she at least has a hint of her famous face in that. She's wallpaper here.

Langdon had a career in vaudeville for 20 years with an act called "Johnny's New Car" before he got into films. It seems that Mack Sennet writers studied a now-lost(?) film of this, so I'd still assign Langdon with some points for this character.

It's hard to imagine doing the same act for 20 years, but I guess that's what vaudeville for.