Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"Look at 'em! Cossacks! Hoover's Cossacks!!"

In response to Geoff's article below, here are two numbers from Lewis Milestone's amazing Hallelujah, I'm a Bum! that feature Harry Langdon as Egghead, the Communist streetcleaner. It never ceases to amaze me that this film was released in 1933, so advanced is Milestone's directing. Just look at those smooth tracking shots! Jolie is as wonderful here as ever and so is Edgar Connor as Acorn, the showiest role of his too, too brief film career (he died the following year). Harry Langdon's performance is something of a revelation. Although the mannerisms and the costume remain in place, Egghead isn't quite the wistful lost soul of Langdon's silent films. He's verbose, (shakily) altruistic, and brave bordering on reckless, and yet seeing Harry attempt to verbally shame an entire angry mob doesn't comes across as incongruous as you might expect. Langdon's instantly recognizable, finely-honed performance style was perfectly adaptable, it seems, to multiple roles and creative reinterpretations. Could he have played George Bailey and Jefferson Smith? Absolutely!

Excerpt one. Egghead's disdain for plutocrats nearly gets his block knocked off in his first scene. My favorite moment in the film; as the mob of bums duck and cower as mounted police ride through Central Park, Egghead remains defiantly standing and then squats down and waddles in a little circle to continue to harangue the crowd at eye level.

Excerpt two. Egghead defends Bumper and Acorn at a kangaroo court set up by the bums.

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Blogger East Side said...

Jolson's greatest movie. I'm convinced that if this had been made at Paramount and starred Bing Crosby, it would've been considered a classic long, long ago. Harry's great, too -- it's still one of the few Langdon features I've seen. He and Jolson should've made more movies together at UA -- they work really well together.

First time I saw it -- on TV when I was around 16 -- the station ran the British print, titled "Hallelujah I'm a Tramp." Depending on the scene, Jolson re-shot or re-recorded the songs featuring the word "bum." The one time it go by, it was haphazardly drowned out by somebody's whistle. For years, it was the only version I was familiar with.

3:26 AM  

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