Harry Langdon in “The Strong Man”
In The Strong Man, Langdon plays a returning World War I vet who is now touring with a medicine show as an assistant to the titular body builder (whose name Zandow, is an obvious play on Sandow). All the while, he is searching for the girl he had fallen in love with long distance via their wartime correspondence. The task is complicated by the fact that he has never met the girl in person. For awhile, he is led on by a vamp who pretends to be the girl; he eventually wises up. When he finally does meet the true object of his affections, she proves to be the blind daughter of the town minister. If that sounds Chaplinesque, remember that City Lights wasn’t until five years later.
At any rate, the mixture of touching elements with Langdon’s typical grab-bag of unusual gags prompted the critics of the time to laud the film as Chaplinesque as well. It was voted one of the ten best of the year in the annual Film Critics Poll, and the box office was even greater than that of the first film. I reiterate—this was Capra’s very first directorial effort.
To learn more about comedy film history please check out 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. To learn about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.