In this film, baby-man comedian Langdon plays the son of a shoemaker whose business is going under due to competition from big manufacturers. He leaves home to raise the rent, stepping accidentally into a 3,000-mile footrace mounted as a marketing scheme by one of those very companies. Thus, the title of the film, which references the old World War One song:
The purse for the race: $25,000. To sweeten the pot, the billboard model Harry has been pining for (Joan Crawford, in one of her first featured roles) is the daughter of the head of the selfsame shoe company. It is she who gives him shoes to wear for the cross-country march. By the time we reach the end (and its climactic tornado scene) Harry has won the race, rescued the girl, married her, and become owner of her father’s shoe company.
There’s always at least one unbelievable, highly original predicament for Harry in his films. In Tramp, Tramp, Tramp he leaps over a fence to escape some sheep. (Other silent comedians flee lions; Langdon flees lambs.) The problem is, there’s nothing on the other side of the fence. He’s at the top of a cliff, with a 100-foot drop beneath his feet. What’s more, he doesn’t know it. He is preoccupied with freeing his sweater thread that’s snagged on a nail in the fence, not realizing that the thread is the only thing keeping him from falling to his death. It’s a one-of-a-kind type of predicament. This scene alone could have boosted word of mouth for Tramp, Tramp, Tramp.
As for the young Crawford, it is interesting to see her at this early stage, before she had established the naughty persona of later silents like The Taxi Dancer (1927), Our Dancing Daughters (1928), and Our Modern Maidens (1929). Here, she is pretty much the standard silent comedy damsel. In fact, I’m certain the first time or two I saw Tramp, Tramp, Tramp I never recognized her as the later star of Mildred Pierce. Comedy was never Crawford’s forte to put it mildly, however hard work and professionalism were, and in this film she “does the job” as she always did. Later, however, when she had acquired a reputation for backstage looseness and sexual promiscuity, the title of this film became a punchline in describing her.Tramp, Tramp, Tramp indeed.
For more on silent and slapstick film history, including Harry Langdon’s Tramp Tramp Tramp, see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc.