Tramp, Tramp, Tramp

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 10/17/15 13:52:29

"Not that sort of tramp."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

The word "Tramp" seems to have gone through half a dozen usages over the course of the twentieth century and would probably be completely out of use in the twenty-first if it didn't rhyme with "stamp" or wasn't so firmly attached to the persona of a certain silent film star. Not this film's star, Harry Langdon, although once you get stop being surprised that this particular silent film does not star Charlie Chaplin, it's quite entertaining.

Here, to "tramp" means to walk, and John Burton (Edwards Davis), chairman of Burton Shoes, aims to promote his brand by sponsoring a cross-country walk - presumably one that will pass the billboards featuring his lovely daughter Betty (Joan Crawford) at every chance. Across town, the one-man shoe shop of Amos Logan (Alec B. Francis) is threatening to lose its mortgage. Son Harry (Langdon) does odd jobs and is besotted with the image of Betty, and when he meets her in the flesh, he's instantly besotted and convinced to sign up for the race. He's already made an enemy out of Nick Kargas (Tom Murray), one of the country's pre-eminent walkers, so it might be even more difficult.

Oddly, the fact that Burton's business is likely what has destroyed the Logans' livelihood barely gets brought up - even in 1926, this would be pretty obvious and it would make sense, but there's not even a moment in the end where, ha-ha, Harry tells the newsreel people interviewing him that he has been wearing shoes his father made instead of Burtons the whole time. On the one hand, this is the exact sort of thing to which a Harry Langdon character would be utterly oblivious; on the other, would his father be so excited by the whole thing? It's really peculiar.

Of course, "peculiar" is kind of Langdon's stock in trade; where the likes of Chaplin and Harold Lloyd were actively plucky and Keaton's great stone face concealed an almost supernatural resourcefulness, Langdon specializes in the blank stare that lasts just long enough to get a laugh but not make things uncomfortable. His slapstick is subtle, but very funny, and his childlike innocence makes for a fun chemistry with Crawford, quite charming in one of her first leading roles. Alec Francis gets laughs as the father, and Tom Murray an extremely entertaining annoyed adversary.

Langdon also produces and is one of the uncredited writers, as is Frank Capra. The story they come up with is frequently almost random in how it jumps from bit to bit - a literal cliffhanger scene is very funny but kind of makes no sense whatsoever, for instance. Being genuinely funny - often hilarious, in fact - papers over a lot of how the movie is thin plotwise, and director Harry Edwards and company manage to pull off some impressive stunt sequences and keep the whole movie moving at a nice pace.

It's barely more than an hour from studio logo to the exceptionally goofy final gag, and though there may be room for more in there - enough to tramp across some of the midwest, perhaps. What there is winds up being pretty satisfying, though; Langdon is a different sort of silent comedian, but a fun contrast to the others.

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