Sunday, November 19, 2006
Harry Langdon: The Fourth Genius?
I think if the criteria included success in feature films, it's reasonable that Langdon was given the position he was. I think he did reach the same level of brilliance as Chaplin/Lloyd/Keaton but only for a very brief time. He did not sustain himself the way they did. In other words, he had the comic strength but not the endurance. But I really feel that it was his success in features, however brief, that afforded him this "fourth clown" spot in critical evaluations. Ray Griffith is another comedian who worked well in features, but I would argue not as successfully as Langdon, plus a lot of his work is missing so it's hard to have a complete picture. W.C. Fields also made some very good features, but it's hard to judge since so much is lost. What survives is very funny and clever, but for me at least, doesn't approach the sublime brilliance of the Chaplin/Keaton/Lloyd films that Langdon managed to reach. Based on this criteria alone, I don't think Langdon is being overrated but I would argue that there's something to be said for sustaining brilliance in the craft over an entire decade or more the way Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd were able to.That being said, if feature films did not enter into the equation, there are a number of other comedians who worked exclusively, or at least primarily, in shorts, who did sustain themselves much better. If you take short films into the equation, it's a whole different situation. Arbuckle, of course, was one of the very best-a comic talent on par with the best of them. While he did make some features, these seem to be more in the genteel tradition, although I did enjoy LEAP YEAR quite a lot. His numerous short films from 1913-onwards are simply amazing (thanks to the recent releases of his Comique films, I am convinced he could have made some feature films that would have even topped Keaton in the breathtaking "How did they do that?" department). Charley Chase is another brilliant comic master, and thanks to the increased availability of the Laurel and Hardy silents, we can see how completely they mastered and matured artistically in the silent medium. Max Linder is another clown, brilliantly creative both in front of and behind the camera, who consistently sustained himself and grew artistically over a long period of time.