“The Strong Man”, Frank Capra's first burlesque film, to be seen again in theaters

“The Strong Man”, Frank Capra's first burlesque film, to be seen again in theaters


The Strong Man – known to us as The Incomplete Athlete – is one of the three films that made actor Harry Langdon (1884-1944) Hollywood famous. But Langdon, one of the most unknown burlesques of the rich American silent comedy contingent, came back down the slope as quickly as he had climbed it, after wanting to stand on his own two feet and make his own films.

Her style is that of a Laurel who would not have had the chance to associate with Hardy. Playing a sort of Lunar Pierrot who would have taken the form of a timid and clumsy child, he has a philosophy of existence consisting of prudent withdrawal, from which he rarely deviates. He combines, in a word, a sort of melancholic apathy with an art – burlesque – which is nevertheless the antipodes.

Made in 1926, The Strong Man also comes to our attention for the meeting of Langdon with one of the future great names of American cinema, the young Frank Capra (1897-1991), who signs here, at the age of 29, his first feature film. The two men had already met at Mack Sennett (1880-1960), the first as an actor, the second as a gagman. They did not collaborate together for long, as Langdon fired Capra after their second film, Her Last Panties (1927). It was bad for him; we know which of the two will come out on top in the cruel Hollywood game.

Quest for the beloved

The Strong Man opens on the front lines of World War I, where a Belgian soldier named Paul Bergot (Langdon) seems clueless about the art of modern warfare, responding to enemy fire with a slingshot and not long before he was taken prisoner. This inaugural sequence, which proves, moreover, that the Americans of the 1920s at least knew that Belgium existed, aims more essentially to introduce the theme of a romantic correspondence between Paul and a certain Mary Brown (Priscilla Bonner), a young American woman full of compassion for his case.

Upon liberation, having become an assistant to the Teutonic colossus who had taken him prisoner on the battlefield, he accompanied him to the United States for the tour he presented there as “the strongest man in the world” . If it may seem curious to title the film after this character, who is only useful in the story, it is because, following the inversion of a cheese paste with a box of camphor , the giant, sick as a dog, will be called pale for the benefit of his puny assistant, requisitioned just as quickly by the entrepreneur of the show, an odious margoulin, to play the strong man, the whole affair ending with blows of cannon in a room destroyed from top to bottom.

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