Harry Langdon in “Long Pants”

 

 long-pants-movie-poster-1927-1020435512

Today marks the anniversary of the release date of the Harry Langdon feature Long Pants (1927), directed by Frank Capra. 

Long Pants is a strange film. Blooming adolescent Harry is scheduled to marry the girl his parents have picked out for him, and is content to go along with it until a beautiful femme fatale (Alma Bennett) has a flat tire directly outside his house. He falls for the mystery woman hard. So hard, in fact, that he attempts to kill his innocent bride-to-be in order to pursue the vamp. He arrives to visit the dame just as she has broken out of jail, and gets embroiled in her life of crime until she finally gets shot full of holes in a speakeasy fracas. Harry returns home to his parents and his girl, hopefully (but doubtfully) a little older and wiser.

This one is undoubtedly darker, but it still did well at the box office. The incongruity of seeing Harry interacting with these hardened criminals provokes something akin to nervous laughter.

Many commentators (notably Walter Kerr) have found a major flaw in the film’s title and the premise of the opening act: Harry in Long Pants. From the mid-nineteenth century through the early twentieth, it was traditional for young boys to wear shorts or knickers until puberty, at which time they got their first pair of long trousers, marking their coming of age. This moment happens to Harry early in the film. Kerr and others feel that the scene is misguided for a couple of reasons. One is that Langdon’s character is usually presented as an adult who happens to possess many of the qualities of a child. However, this film seems to pin him down in age as a pubescent, at least in the film’s opening scenes. Secondly, they feel the premise is confusing. They are of the opinion that opening with Harry receiving his long pants defines him as being thirteen years old. Which makes it a mite confusing when, in the very next scene, he is about to be married. The answer to me is so obvious you’d have to be willfully blind not to see it. If you want to be LITERAL-MINDED about it, we can’t help noting that in the opening scene Harry’s mother is highly reluctant to let his father present him with long pants in the first place. She clearly wants to prolong his childhood. Isn’t it logical then to conclude that she has been doing that right along, and that Harry IS indeed seventeen, or even older? It is, and there’s your definitive answer.

Here are some clips from the film:

For more on comedy film history 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

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

 

Advertisements

2 Responses to “Harry Langdon in “Long Pants””

  1. I completely agree, it seems obvious to me that the joke is about Harry being kept in short pants loooooong after growing up. Maybe other viewers weren’t paying as close attention…?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: