The Strong Man (Frank Capra / U.S., 1926):

The immigrantís saga into show business, couched by Harry Langdon and Frank Capra in Keystone ruckus and the Book of Joshua. It starts in No Manís Land: the Belgian doughboy (Langdon) vainly turns his machine-gun on a can of beans, his slingshot proves mightier, heís whisked away by a burly German guard (Arthur Thalasso). Following the armistice, the two turn up on Ellis Island as "Zandow the Great" and his assistant, ready to enter the American Dream of rough-and-tumble vaudeville. Tracking down his beloved pen-pal is Langdonís main goal, along the way he learns about New York in the form of a pickpocketing giantess (Gertrude Astor) who gooses him in the back of a cab while fishing for a wallet down his pants. (Nothing beats Langdonís startled slouch while this amazon coolly lights a cigarette and adjusts her stockings in between attacks.) His sweetheart (Priscilla Bonner) is the blind-waif daughter of the parson (William V. Mong) of Cloverdale, a Gomorrah/Potterville overrun by vice and hooch. The ride there provides Langdon with two other choice bits of pantomime, cluelessly rubbing foul Limburger cheese on his congested chest and then (twice) sucker-punching the complaining bully by his side. (If the comic is a big toddler, heís a cagey one.) The climax puts the puffy hero amid weights on a stage before a saloonful of rowdy brawlers, and gives Capraís already-sturdy technique a dynamic workout -- Langdonís time in the trenches comes in handy when smiting the sinners, gangsters are sprayed with liquor and bombarded with bottles, cannon fire brings down the Walls of Jericho. The hero ends up resplendent and uneasy in a new role and a new uniform, stumbling between individuality and conformism as befits a pellucid early study for Itís a Wonderful Life. With Robert McKim, and Brooks Benedict. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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