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Film / The Strong Man

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The Strong Man is a 1926 comedy film starring Harry Langdon, directed by Frank Capra. Langdon is Paul Bergot, a Belgian soldier in The Great War, who is engaged in a pen pal correspondence with an American girl named Mary Brown. Paul is captured by a German soldier, Zandow. After the war, Zandow has started up a strong man vaudeville act, with Paul as his assistant. They take the act to America, where Paul sets out in search of Mary Brown.

The Strong Man helped make Langdon a star who briefly rivaled Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd in the pantheon of silent screen comedy. It was also Capra's directorial feature film debut. Langdon and Capra would go on to make another hit feature, Long Pants, but Langdon then fired Capra and started to direct his own films. This led to the swift end of Langdon's A-list stardom, although he continued working in B-Movie comedy films for years. Capra's career went in the opposite direction: he became one of the most successful directors of the studio era.

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Tropes:

  • Abnormal Ammo: Paul uses the barbells and weights from Zandow's act as ammunition for the cannon he's firing at the mob. He also uses a barrel of liquor.
  • Bad-Guy Bar: The saloon in Cloverdale run by chief gangster Mike McDevitt. Drinking, gambling, and what's implied to be prostitution.
  • Bar Brawl: Paul challenges a ruffian who insulted Mary to a fight. This escalates into an epic brawl that winds up destroying the saloon.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The cannon that Zandow uses for his Human Cannonball act. Paul can't do the Human Cannonball bit when he's forced to replace Zandow on the stage—but later he uses the cannon to defend himself from the mob, and destroy the saloon from the inside.
  • Contrived Coincidence: America is a great big wide country, but luckily, Zandow and Paul wind up taking their strong man act to Mary Brown's home town of Cloverdale.
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  • Fainting: Paul the Manchild is terrified of going up to Lily's apartment. So Lily, who needs to retrieve the wad of cash she dropped in his pocket, pretends to faint.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The girls sitting in patrons' laps at the saloon are implied to be prostitutes.
  • Good Shepherd: Parson Brown, who is determined to clean up the border town of Cloverdale, which has been turned into a Wretched Hive by bootleggers.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Paul is even more scared of Lily the gangster's moll when she lights up a cigarette.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Lily shatters a champagne bottle over Paul's head. He responds by curling up on her bed and going to sleep.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "Sink that roll, baby, there's a 'dick' trailing me."
  • An Immigrant's Tale: A long comic sequence with Zandow and Paul at Ellis Island.
  • Manchild: Langdon's essential comic persona. Here, he is thrown into utter panic when a sexy woman reaches into his pocket (she's trying to lift a wad of cash) and he mistakes it for a sexual gesture. Paul is also terrified when confronted with a nude model in an art show. In the trenches of World War I, he prefers using a slingshot to a machine gun. The Strong Man could easily have been remade as a Mr. Bean feature.
  • Manly Tears: Zandow breaks down sobbing when a top hat given him by the Crown Prince is crushed at Ellis Island.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Eugen Sandow was a famous Real Life bodybuilder.
  • Secondary Character Title: Zandow the strong man's only role in the story is to be the reason why Paul goes to America and then travels to Cloverdale.
  • Wretched Hive: Cloverdale the border town, turned into a cesspool of crime by the bootleggers using it to smuggle liquor into the USA.
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