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Knight Duty
Knight Duty (1933)
Movie
  • Director:
    Arvid E. Gillstrom
  • Category:
  • Writer:
    Dean Ward,William Watson
  • Cast:
    Harry Langdon,Vernon Dent,Matthew Betz
  • Time:
    20min
  • Year:
    1933
Harry is a hobo, one step ahead of the law. After accidentally foiling a purse snatcher, he cadges a ride on a flatbed truck, is knocked out when a wax figure falls on him during the ride, and is carried into a museum by someone thinking he's another manikin. Inside, it takes him a while to figure out that he's among dummies. Then, two enterprising jewel thieves arrive to steal the museum director's priceless ruby. Cops are on hand as well: when the ruby goes missing, Harry may be the perfect fall guy. Can Harry stay away from the cops, foil the theft, and behave heroically in front of the museum director's daughter, the same woman whose purse he saved that morning?
Casts
Cast overview:
Harry Langdon Harry Langdon - Harry
Vernon Dent Vernon Dent - The Cop
Matthew Betz Matthew Betz - The Crook (as Mathew Betz)
Lita Chevret Lita Chevret - The Crook's Partner
Nell O'Day Nell O'Day - Museum Director's Daughter
Eddie Baker Eddie Baker - Museum Guard
Billy Engle Billy Engle - Museum Director

Knight Duty (1933)
Iphonedivorced
Iphonedivorced
When cable TV came along in the 1970s a lot of long-forgotten material from Hollywood's past was exhumed and put on display once more. I recall a station somewhere in the Midwest that regularly played short films from the '30s, especially two-reel comedies produced by Educational Pictures. Good silent comedies were made by this outfit in the 1920s, but by the '30s the studio had fallen on hard times, and it became something of a haven for comedians from the silent era who were past their prime. I saw several of Buster Keaton's talkie shorts on cable and found some of them quite enjoyable, and not nearly as bad as their latter-day reputation suggested, but I felt that the comedies Harry Langdon made for Educational (or at least the ones that turned up on TV) didn't hold up as well as Buster's. Langdon's high, piping voice certainly suited his child-man appearance, but for best results his characterization seemed to require silence; the addition of realistic sound sometimes made an already strange figure seem even stranger. Still, Harry had his moments in talkies, and Knight Duty is probably his best effort from this period, the one that most closely captures the spirit of his best Sennett shorts from the 1920s.

Like so many silent comedies this film begins in a park. Harry sleeps there, and quickly runs afoul of a big cop played by his frequent co-star Vernon Dent. Dent wears a Keystone Cop outfit that looks outdated in the '30s, and has a cute running gag in which his hat is repeatedly knocked over his ears. Quite accidentally Harry manages to come to the aid of a young woman whose purse has been stolen, but the necessity of his fleeing the law prevents them from becoming better acquainted. Soon after, Harry has a nice routine that's very much like his silent work: when his hat falls off near a sprinkler he tries to retrieve it, but gets sprayed. Harry darts back and forth, approaches his hat like a tightrope walker, tries kinking the hose to stop the flow, and eventually snags the hat. It's pure Langdon, no one else could have pulled off this sort of thing so well, but it would have played better with some bouncy LeRoy Shield-style music on the soundtrack. Unfortunately this is one area where the studio's limited financial resources hurt the results.

In his attempt to flee the cop Harry stows away on the back of a truck transporting wax statues to a museum. He manages to get knocked unconscious, is carried into the museum with the statues, and awakens there in a dazed condition. (Although in Harry's case, "dazed" is a matter of degree.) The rest of the film unfolds there, as our hero encounters cops, crooks, and a lot of sinister-looking wax figures. A hastily contrived plot concerning a stolen ruby drives the action. Needless to say the setting is ripe for visual comedy, and it seems to have inspired Langdon and his crew to rise to the occasion with a procession of good gags: dummies are mistaken for people and vice versa, Harry disappears into a magician's box, mistakes a mirror for a doorway, decapitates a dummy cop and is almost decapitated himself, etc. He eventually finds that the pretty girl from the park is the museum director's daughter, and rescues her again—more or less by accident, of course.

Langdon is supported by a solid cast of comedy veterans, including Eddie Baker and Billy Engle, and there's a distinct feeling that everyone is making a special effort to lift this short above the general run of the studio's output. Under the circumstances, they did pretty well. If only the sets hadn't been quite so shabby, and if only a good musical track had been supplied, this short would almost rank with the concurrent short comedy work of Laurel & Hardy and W.C. Fields. As it is, Knight Duty provides a fair measure of entertainment, and also demonstrates that under the right circumstances Harry Langdon could work successfully with sound. And yet, I have to confess that I'm tempted to watch it again with the sound off, while playing some ragtime or hot jazz from Langdon's heyday, the 1920s.
Dranar
Dranar
A lot of people have said that Harry Langdon's downfall in the sound era was that the addition of a voice to his character -- even though he has no trouble talking on screen -- takes something away from it. The solution to this problem in this short from his second attempt at a series of two reelers in the sound era with Educational Pictures, assuming a solution is necessary, is that while this is a talking film, Harry hardly speaks at all. He delivers his lines well and for laughs ("Ruby? Oh, she went shopping."), but only when there is a reason for him to speak, which is how it should be, really, whether it is frequently or infrequently that he has such a reason.

There's a stock plot here, involving a pair of thieves out to steal a ruby, but it's incidental and mainly serves to get Harry into the film's main setting. Fortunately it doesn't intrude too much and its other influence is to cause a series of fast confusions and mistaken identities and occasion clever mechanical gags. These aren't the best feature of the film and are a little hit or miss but there are enough hits that it is worth watching. There's one, involving a balloon in a hat with a face drawn on, that visually seems to have its source in Langdon's early two-reeler "His New Mamma," and another in which he finds himself miraculously in the window of a facade that topples around him that seems to come from Buster Keaton.

The scenario is that Harry as found himself locked in a wax museum overnight (while the thieves try to steal a ruby -- so I guess it is a Wax and Valuable Ruby Museum), which is perfect for him. Somehow he always manages to extract a supernatural number of laughs from letting his naive, childlike little character interact with lifeless dummies, and the parts that really make the film memorable are when this is allowed to happen, as he gets confused by who is real and who is not, scandalized by indecent dummies, and tries to imitate them himself.

The funniest sequence has almost nothing to do with the rest of the film, but is just a brilliant isolated sequence: Harry is in a park and must try to retrieve his hat, which has fallen near a sprinkler. First he is mystified by how the hose works and then stops when he blocks the water -- and then he becomes so entranced by playing with it that he forgets about the hat. Its wonderful that he can get this extended time simply to spin comedy out of the sparest materials.

My favorite moment is a quick one: Harry is puzzled by a wax glass of beer that he can't seem to drink just as a policeman peers in the museum, and the policeman thinks he is a wax figure himself because he standing so stock still in puzzlement at the beer.

Overall this feels like an otherwise unmemorable short which has been modified to fit the humor of Harry Langdon and allow for his personal style of performing. Fortunately, it is adapted well enough that Harry comes through and makes it a very funny one.
Maman
Maman
This short is from disk 4 of the four-disk set entitled "Harry Langdon: Lost and Found"--a new lovely set of Langdon shorts. Up until its release, there really were very, very few of his shorts available, so it's a set well worth seeking if you are a fan of silent comedy. Unfortunately, most of disk 4 are his lesser-quality talking films. Knight Duty is such a talkie.

The once-famous Harry Langdon spent most of the 1930s and early 40s in second and third-rate productions by lesser studios. Whether or not this is due to Langdon's career choices or a fickle public, by the time KNIGHT DUTY came along, Harry's heyday was a definite thing of the past. The artsy and refined comedy he made in the days of silents was now replaced with much more brash and physical humor--not a particularly good trend for this particular comedian.

Harry begins the film as a hobo who helps a young lady. However, a cop (Vernon Dent, a perennial Langdon co-star) gives chase to Harry and through some odd circumstances, he is knocked out and transported to a wax museum. So far, the movie is well done--with some glimpses of the earlier Langdon. However, once at the museum, the comedy becomes much more physical and contrived. In many ways, what situations Langdon is in from here on in the film would have been better suited to The Three Stooges. However, despite this mismatch of styles, the film still is entertaining and watchable. Not bad, but certainly not among his finest.
Lbe
Lbe
A very pleasant short for Harry Langdon fans. The entire 20 minutes go by without more than twenty words being uttered, nor do they need to be. Langdon has a couple of nice, typical bits in the movie, playing with a water hose and hiding out with wax dummies. If you're not familiar with Langdon, this short is a pretty good introduction to his pixilated personality.
Tto
Tto
Knight Duty (1933)

** 1/2 (out of 4)

Harry Langdon plays a tramp who gets stuck inside a wax museum after running from the police. While inside, another couple enters and steals some jewelry so Langdon must try and get it back. I found this short to be pretty entertaining once we get inside the wax museum. The opening gag with Langdon and a water hose doesn't work at all but we get a lot more laughs as the film moves along. There's a very good sequence where Langdon doesn't realize he's in a wax museum and finds himself fighting with gangsters. Even though this is a sound film Langdon doesn't say more than a few words.