29 March 2017 | wmorrow59
If you're wild about Harry, you'll enjoy it
Several years ago TCM devoted an evening of programming to comedian Harry Langdon, and aired all six of the surviving sound shorts he made for the Hal Roach Studio during the 1929-30 season. (Eight were produced, but two are unavailable for viewing.) Langdon is best known for his output during the silent era, and is generally assumed to have been one of those unlucky stars who was unable to make a successful transition to sound, but in the best of these early talkies he comes off surprisingly well, and manages to capture some of the spirit that made his early work so special. In my estimation The Big Kick is one of Harry's better Roach comedies, generally bright and amusing, and it's interesting to see how smoothly he adapts his quirky technique to the demands of the new medium.
There's scarcely any plot to speak of, but that's okay. Harry runs a filling station out in the sticks, assisted by a cute young lady. (She's Nancy Dover, with whom Langdon paired well in several Roach shorts.) Bootleggers are on the loose in the area, and detectives are chasing them. Men with guns show up at the gas station—are they cops, or crooks?—and later a bus pulls up, filled with passengers who, mysteriously, appear to be mannequins. As it turns out, the crooks have hidden their liquor in the dummies, and when a gunfight breaks out, booze spouts from bullet holes in the "passengers." (A rather macabre gag.) If you're familiar with Langdon's style it should come as no surprise that Nancy turns out to be more resourceful than her boyfriend at subduing the crooks, and dealing with all this unaccustomed excitement.
One of the nice things about The Big Kick is that Harry's essentially mute comic method fits so well in this new, somewhat strange setting. He still looks very much like his eerily youthful self; after all, this film was made only four years after The Strong Man, his peak achievement of the silent days. He speaks not at all in first portion of The Big Kick, and very little thereafter, and when he does, his high, piping voice suits his appearance perfectly. He also utilizes sound cleverly, as when a driver in a dilapidated, noisy car pulls up and tries to communicate, but he and Harry are unable to hear each other over the cacophony; the idea seems to be, if you have to use sound, make it LOUD! As the tense situation with the bootleggers swirls around him, Harry goes about his business in his own methodical, eccentric way. This could easily be a Sennett short of 1925 with sound added, and it works.
It's not likely that The Big Kick will make a convert out of anyone who doesn't already appreciate Langdon, nor would it make an especially good introduction for anyone who has never seen him before. But for fans, it's pleasant to watch Harry take on the new medium and succeed.