When it comes to the definition of "movie star", almost no one fulfills that better than Joan Crawford. Her decades-long movie career, her poor background, her various real-life romances, the numerous stories & legends about her personal behavior--it's almost as if her entire life was written by a Hollywood screenwriter. She even had a infamous movie made about her. The persona of "Joan Crawford" is so large that it often overwhelms the individual movies she was in.
For the purposes of this blog, I picked a film in which the Joan Crawford persona had no effect. The 1926 silent comedy TRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP was one of Joan's first major roles, even though she really is not much more than a attractive goal to be obtained by the film's star, Harry Langdon.
If you are not a major old movie buff, chances are you've never heard of Harry Langdon. At one point in the mid-1920s Langdon was considered the equal of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. Langdon's bizarre child-like persona fell out of favor quickly, especially when he broke away from a certain young writer-director named Frank Capra.
Capra was one of the main writers on TRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP, and he may have also helped out Harry Edwards on the direction. The story is about Harry entering a cross-country walking race in order to win enough money to save his elderly father's shoe store. The irony in this is that the race is sponsored by one of the big companies causing Harry's father to go broke. The Burton Shoes company has had a major success by using an ad campaign featuring Mr. Burton's beautiful daughter Betty (Joan Crawford). The ad campaign has caused Harry to fall hopelessly in love with Betty.
Harry Langdon pining over Joan Crawford's image in TRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP
Believe it or not, Betty not only feels sorry for the elf-like, immature Harry--she even roots for him to win, and starts to fall for him! Of course, the "Joan Crawford" persona had yet to have been established. If this movie had been made a few years later, there's no way Joan would have treated Harry with respect, yet alone affection. She more than likely would have caused Harry to flee in sheer terror.
The idea that Harry Langdon's typical movie character could have had relations with any mature woman seems far-fetched, but one must take into account that just about every male silent movie comedian had pretty, "normal" leading ladies--and winning the hand of those ladies was an important plot point in their films. (I assume that the meaning behind this was that if goofy movie clowns could get the girl in the end, there was hope for all the ordinary guys in the audience.) In TRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP Joan fulfills the role of dream girl very well. She's very fetching in her stylish (yet understated) wardrobe, and she exudes a softness and kindness that would rarely be seen over the rest of her long screen career. (I've always thought that Crawford was far more attractive in the late 1920s-early 30s than when she became a huge star.) No matter how silly a Harry Langdon--Joan Crawford love pairing may sound, it works in the film due to Crawford's performance.
As for the film itself, it's very good--not one of the best silent comedies--but still watchable today. An individual's enjoyment of TRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP will be directly tied to how that individual responds to Harry Langdon. Frank Capra biographer Joseph McBride described Langdon's screen persona as looking like a depraved baby, and he's not far off the mark. The pasty-faced Harry is made to seem even smaller by wearing clothes that are too big for him, and his ability to get out of the many slapstick situations he finds himself in has more to do with pure luck than any effort on his part. Langdon on-screen is basically a bashful, naive, clumsy nine-year old--when one realizes that Langdon was in his forties when he made this film, the character seems even more weird. It's doubtful that Harry could manage to walk across the street, let alone walk across the United States. Yet in TRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP Harry is able to save Joan from a cyclone, win the race, and win Joan's heart. If you have any sort of sentimentality in you, and you've been exposed to silent comedy, you'll probably like TRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP--but if you're not used to silent slapstick, and you've never seen Harry Langdon before, you may find Harry's strange man-child act to be exasperating.
If you are a huge Joan Crawford fan, and you haven't seen TRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP, I suggest you check it out if you get a chance. (I believe the film is available on YouTube, and it only runs about an hour.) You'll see a Joan Crawford very different from the "Joan Crawford" of Hollywood legend. You'll also be reminded of how naturally beautiful she was--even in a very generic role, she has a screen presence which makes the viewer notice everything she does (even though she doesn't get to do much). Joan Crawford was one of the greatest movie legends of all time. She had that indefinable "It"-even as a very young, and very little known, ingenue back in 1926.