Harry Langdon‘s feature Long Pants (1927), directed by Frank Capra, was released on this date.
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.
For more on comedy film history, including Long Pants, 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
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…?
or some people are just VERY literal-minded