Wednesday, December 22, 2021

'The Strong Man,' ultimate Christmas film from the silent era, in Wilton, N.H. on Sunday, 12/26

Harry Langdon rises above it all in 'The Strong Man' (1926).

Timing is everything. And I think there's no better time to show Harry Langdon's feature comedy 'The Strong Man' (1926) than around Christmas.

And that's exactly what's happening at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., where I'll do live music for the film on Sunday, Dec. 26 at 2 p.m.

I hope you'll attend! More info and details about the screening are in the press release, which I've pasted in below. 

But why Christmas? 'The Strong Man' has no references to Santa Claus or the three wise men or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. There's not a Christmas tree in sight!

Oh wait, that's right—Rudolph wasn't invented until the 1930s, as an advertising gimmick for the late retail giant Montgomery Ward. Wow, the culture moves so fast!

In terms of Christmas stories, 'The Strong Man' will never be the silent era's answer to 'It's a Wonderful Life,' despite the fact they were both directed by Frank Capra.

But despite its language of slapstick visual comedy, the story of 'The Strong Man' turns on many of the larger issues of Christianity and the presence of a savior among ordinary people. 

I've felt this for some time. Consider this post from the summer of 2012, after I'd accompanied the film in Brandon, Vt.:

The more I see of 'The Strong Man,' the more I admire it. Yes, it's widely thought of as Langdon's strongest feature, and credit is given to a very young Frank Capra, whose direction helped it immensely, I'm sure. But in addition to the comedy (from Langdon) and the strong story (from Capra), this film stands as a remarkably poetic illustration of some very important and timeless ideas.

What ideas? Well, how about 'The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth?' And poetry? For starters, consider how the movie takes the whole "Strong Man" circus/vaudeville imagery and catapults it into the arena of morality: in this case, the division between the peaceful Cloverdale residents and the newly arrived saloon crowd. In this situation, who is the real "strong man?"

And take the Cloverdale townsfolk, who march through the streets singing 'Onward Christian Soldiers' in search of their savior. And then there's Harry, on stage at the saloon before a disbelieving audience, attempting to perform miracles (and succeeding, for a time), and whose antics are climaxed by an ascent to the heavens (just to the rafters, but out of view of the audience), followed by a resurrection that includes doves (of peace?) flying out of his pants.

Harry as Jesus? That's a little much, especially because Jesus never wore a hat. But a lot of 'The Strong Man' resonates in this fashion. And then there's Harry's hopeless search for a girl he's never met, only to discover that she's blind—but then it's her very lack of sight that allows her to see the best in him.

Boy, don't get me going or we'll have a doctoral dissertation on our hands. But really, the film is that rich.

So what better time to put 'The Strong Man' on the big screen, and show it to a theater full of people, than that time of year when the birth of Christianity's savior is traditionally celebrated?

And that's where you come in—literally, in terms of the Town Hall Theatre, where doors will open at 1:30 p.m. on the day after Christmas. 

Please join us for a movie that's full of great comedy, but also infused with the spirit of the season—that same spirit that would blossom so brilliantly two decades later in Capra's 'Its a Wonderful Life.' 

Press release with more info is below. Merry Christmas to all—and to all a good time at the movies!

*  *  *

A visually busy trade publication ad promoting 'The Strong Man.'


Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Frank Capra's very first movie highlights Town Hall Theatre silent film program on Sunday, Dec. 26

Holiday weekend screening features Harry Langdon's classic comedy 'The Strong Man' with live music

WILTON, N.H. — Silent film with live music returns for the holiday weekend at the Town Hall Theatre with a showing of an uproarious comedy starring Harry Langdon.

The screening of 'The Strong Man' on Sunday, Dec. 26 at 2 p.m., gives families a chance to round out the holiday weekend with a fun activity suitable for all ages.

Directing 'The Strong Man' was young first-timer Frank Capra, who would later go on to create such Hollywood classics as 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' (1939) and 'It's a Wonderful Life' (1946).

Live music will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $10 per person to help cover expenses.

"For the Christmas weekend, we thought it would be fun to revive the first film made by the man responsible for 'It's A Wonderful Life,' one of the all-time holiday classics," Rapsis said.

'The Strong Man' tells the story of a World War I soldier (Langdon) who, following his discharge, finds work as assistant to a circus strong man. As the act travels the country, Langdon continually searches for a girl he corresponded with while stationed overseas in the military.

The search leads to a town controlled by Prohibition-era gangsters, which forces Harry to test the limits of his own inner strength even as he looks for his dream girl. Can Harry triumph over the bad guys? And is love more powerful than brute strength?

The feature-length film showcases the unique child-like personality of Langdon, who is largely forgotten today. For a brief time in the 1920s, however, he rivaled Charlie Chaplin as Hollywood's top movie clown.

Langdon's popularity, which grew quickly in the last years of the silent era, fizzled as the movie business abruptly switched to talkies starting in 1929.

'The Strong Man' was selected in 2007 for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

In recent years, 'The Strong Man' has been recognized as a major achievement of the silent film era—a satisfying and timeless balance of emotion and comedy.

"A little tragedy and a lot of laughs can be seen in 1926's The Strong Man," wrote critic Richard von Busack in 2007. "Director Frank Capra's energy and sturdy plot sense counterpoint Langdon's wonderful strangeness."

'The Strong Man' will be accompanied by live music by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who performs at venues across the region and beyond.

"These films were created to be shown on the big screen as a sort of communal experience," Rapsis said. "With an audience and live music, they still come to life in the way their makers intended them to.

"So the Town Hall Theatre's silent film screenings are a great chance for people to experience films that first caused people to first fall in love with the movies," he said.

Frank Capra's 'The Strong Man' will be screened with live music on Sunday, Dec. 26 at 2 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $10 per person to help defray expenses. For more info, call (603) 654-3456 or visit 

No comments:

Post a Comment