Seeing that extraordinary close-up of Joan Crawford being swayed by John Garfield’s music in Humoresque (Jean Negulesco, USA, 1946) reminded me that Joan Crawford’s stardom had begun in the silent era. Rifling through my file on Crawford films, I noticed that I had never seen Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (Harry Edwards, USA, 1926). Now Joan Crawford in Tramp, Tramp, Tramp would be one thing but sadly it turned out to be Harry Langdon in Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, which has quite different connotations. Though second-billed, Crawford’s role is really merely that of ‘the girl’ and could have probably been played by almost any attractive actress of the period.
The plot is basic. Burton shoes is running a huge nationwide campaign, and the face of Burton shoes in posters across America is Betty (Joan Crawford), the boss’s daughter, inviting everyone in America to ‘walk with her’ wearing the ‘sole of the nation’. The campaign is so successful it’s wiping out smaller shoe shops like Amos Vogel and Son. The son is Harry (Harry Langdon), so besotted with the image of Betty that he splashes the walls of his bedroom with it and even brings it/her to bed. When their landlord gives them three months to find money for rent, Harry joins the Burton contest to walk across America. Whoever gets there first will win 25,000. Intriguingly, though nothing much is made of it in the film, the nasty landlord is one of the contestants. Needless to say, Harry wins the contest, gets the girl, and even gives himself a little number as his and Betty’s son being just as inept as the father in a crib at the end of the film.
Frank Capra ostensible wrote the film and co-directed it with Edwards, though the credits of the print I saw give no evidence of this. It’s an interesting example of the rise of advertising in America and its effects on mass culture, an issue so live in the twenties that it was already drawing debate by leading American thinkers (one thinks of the work of Walter Lippman). Harry Langdon’s charms are lost on me but the film has several imaginative set-pieces (Harry hanging from a cliff, nailing his sweater to a wooden fence and sliding down the hill on the fence; Harry in a prison work-gang; Harry in the middle of a cyclone, first losing all his clothes while attempting to take a bath, then defeating it with rocks like David and Goliath – they’re all very well-done).
What interested me most was Crawford, whose image is already presented as one evoking dreams and desire across America, and a charming little vignette of Harry’s father going to the pictures and seeing his son on screen (see clip above), which evokes something of what going to the cinema in a small town must have been like in the 1920s.