Gary Johnson wrote:Without having seen the first two shorts in the Langdon-Roach series I can still state without qualms
that these films just got better as the series went along. SKIRT SHY and THE HEAD GUY both have
moments, THE FIGHTING PARSON is a coherent gem straight through, THE BIG KICK is an assemblage
of prime Langdon moments, and both THE SHRIMP and THE KING are fun variations on Langdon's
'baby' character. I grew up on Maltin's appraisal of these shorts and he gave them short shrift in
THE GREAT MOVIE SHORTS. I think it's time he reassessed them.
(Listen to me....now I'm giving demands to Leonard Maltin.)
All of the Roach's silent series went through a short period of readjustment because of sound and
then rebounded nicely by 1930 so it's too bad that Langdon and Roach parted company at this time.
All I've ever read is that Roach tried but Langdon was still difficult to work with at this time.
That sounds a bit too pat. Maybe someone in this newsgroup who happens to be writing a book
on the Roach studio could shed some light on this period?
By the way, do any members here have copies of HOTTER THAN HOT and SKY BOY in their collection?
Can’t wait until you buy my book eh? Well, the whole thing about Langdon being difficult at Roach comes from one late-in-life source, and that’s Hal Roach himself, and lets just say ol’ Hal was not the most accurate of sources, and apparently had some axes to grind against some of his former employees. The Roach Langdon series was actually doing just fine, with audiences, exhibitors, and critics alike.
As I said on Nitrateville, The shooting schedules reveal that Langdon's Roach comedies were actualy shot very quickly, the first two in seven days apiece, the third took two weeks, still nothing out of line for a Roach two-reeler, and THE HEAD GUY was shot in five days! The remainder run between a week and two weeks, with only THE SHRIMP returning for three days of retakes after the Christmas/New Years Holiday. Considering that these films were also made in the early months of the Roach Studios conversion to sound, and that they were shooting foreign language version of some of them as well, all indications point to the film's production being very smooth indeed.
In fact, in March, 1930, Roach is announcing to the HOLLYWOOD NEWS and other press that Langdon is being signed to a new contract for four feature films, an odd treatment for a troublesome star, and yet three weeks later, the same paper announces that Langdon is leaving Roach for good. From what I can determine, what happened is that it was Langdon’s decision to leave Roach, this was a period in his life when he wasn’t making the best judgment calls, and jumped ship to go to Warner Brothers to star in what was originally announced as a big-budget musical shot in 65mm, but ended up being the disastrous A SOLDIERS PLAYTHING. I think Langdon might have thought he was heading to a bigger studio (though there’s some indication that he was also settling some old First National debt markers that Warners had picked up when they absorbed the studio), but it turned out to be a bad move all around.
I’ve seen mute prints of both HOTTER THAN HOT and THE SKY BOY, and followed them with the shooting scripts. The former is one of the most bizarre films Langdon ever made, with Harry playing a genuine pyromaniac who chases fire engines. At one point there is a somewhat unsettling sequence where he sits down and puts a lit firecracker in his mouth, waiting for it to explode.
I have been a strong supporter of the Roach Langdon comedies and wrote an article about them in CLASSIC IMAGES in the mid 90’s. I’m glad others have got to see most of them on TCM this week and shared the same opinion. We have shown many of them at Slapsticon, and they always went over like Gangbusters.
RICHARD M ROBERTS