Three's a Crowd / The Chaser

Double Harry Feature

Three's a Crowd was Harry's first film as director after firing Frank Capra; it didn't do well at the box office and the conventional opinion over the ages have been that it's terrible and Harry's career never recovered. These days, some silent film scholars, trying to rehabilitate Harry's reputation, have claimed it's a misbegotten masterpiece, a Waiting for Godot of the silent screen, unloved and unappreciated but a work of genius. I watched it twice and listened to the commentary, which is probably the only commentary in history where the guy yells at us for not loving the film. Harry is an assistant moving man, and his boss accuses him of trying to steal his wife. Um, well, he ain't wrong, actually. It seems Harry longs for a family, and one day just happens to find a pregnant homeless woman out in the snow. He brings her in, drags in every doctor in the city, and helps her care for the baby when it's born. Alas, the woman's newly-reformed husband shows up, promises never to wrong her again, and they leave Harry alone. He goes down to the Fortune Teller who had predicted happiness for him and thinks about throwing a brick through the guy's window. There are some gag sequences in the film, but it's hardly a laugh riot (and if you wanted to quote me as saying this film has 'hardly a laugh' that would be okay with me). I liked Harry's house, a one room apartment that's an addition to a very tall building, with the only entrance Laurel-and-Hardy-sized steps, only wooden and tilted at an angle - even with movie magic, there's no way they weren't as dangerous as they looked. In an early funny sequence, Harry falls through a trapdoor in the floor and holds on for dear life to the rug stuck in the door: the more he climbs the more it slips when he tries to open the door and climb back in. Funny bit. After that, the funniest gag is Harry, arms full of toys, standing waiting for the baby to be born. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting. And so on. If you like Harry, you'll probably laugh at his patience, but if you don't, you'll probably be bored. So, what we have here is a comedy that doesn't have a lot of laughs in it and did poorly at the box office. But that sort of describes The General too, don't it? Alas, this film also had Frank Capra bad-mouthing it and the added crash-and-burn of Harry's entire career and the consensus has thus always been that it's terrible. It actually isn't, it's a pleasant enough little film with some nice touches, but it also requires a lot of patience and, I think, a general disposition of liking Langdon and his work, to appreciate. Which doesn't explain the rabid defense of the film some of its partisans put forth. (Alfred Eaker calls it a 'dark horse, existentialist, Tao masterpiece,' for heaven's sake, and compares it to the best of Beckett or Chaplin.) As mentioned, David Kalat, in the commentary film, actually yells at us in defense of the film. Settle down, boys, it's only a movie. Not a bad one, not a terrible one, but not one that's a gut-buster, either. Million-dollar Intertitle: Woman to Harry, describing baby: 'He looks just like you! Better luck next time.' The Kino print of Three's a Crowd is good, with a few scattered scenes of damage but more scenes that look brand new. The Chaser was released a few months later. Harry likes to carouse down at the speakeasy, so his pretty wife sues him for divorce. The Judge, instead of granting her request, sentences Harry to put on a dress and do all the housework for thirty days. Harry tries it, is lousy at it, and so decides to kill himself, first with a gun, then with poison. Failing even that, he runs away from home with Bud Jamison and becomes a sex maniac. Then he comes home and makes up with his wife, who's missed him. The New York Times, in its contemporary review, said Harry was a good actor but that his director was rotten. (He directed this himself.) Okay, first of all, know that this isn't a very funny film. The basic premise would be an okay 1940 Columbia 2-reeler (that's not a compliment) and actually DID make a pretty funny episode of I Love Lucy. And I really find it fascinating that some of Harry's great proponents claim that he was a genius ahead of his time and that all of his standing and looking at the camera with a blank visage is some sort of Alain Resnais-like somethingism. But I only laughed twice during the entire film (Harry's flirtation with a woman at a picnic and Harry's reaction to his car falling off a cliff) and both of those laughs came in the last reel of the movie, where I'm sure 1928 audiences were sleeping or sneaking across the hall of the multiplex to see something else. (And yes, I'm aware they didn't have multiplexes in the 1920s, save your snarky comments.) Harry's obsession with death simply isn't funny, nor is his carousing. Some of the film is uncomfortably weird; nobody seems to recognize that Harry in a dress is a guy, and the delivery men and door-to-door salesmen keep kissing him: are we supposed to infer that they were doing the same to Harry's wife? Or what? Million-dollar Newspaper Headline: Victim of Freak Sentence Shoots Self, Drinks Poison, Inhales Gas, Writes Goodbye Note and Disappears; Police Suspect Suicide' I really liked Harry's first few features but the last two or three were not very appealing and of course, audiences left him in droves (or in Fords, more likely) and First National barely released his next and final self-produced comedy, Heart Trouble, which has never been seen from that day to this. He went to Hal Roach for one season and then to Educational Pictures for a bit and then to Columbia, where he did some shorts I liked. He co-starred with Al Jolson in a film and subbed for Stan Laurel as Oliver Hardy's partner when Stan was out in a contract dispute. Harry passed away just before Christmas, 1944. To see his best films, watch Tramp, Tramp, Tramp or The Strong Man.