Egghead in Hallelujah, I'm a Bum

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Egghead in Hallelujah, I'm a Bum

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Sat Oct 10, 2009 10:16 am

So I'm watching Hallelujah, I'm a Bum-- hey, every twenty years you should check in to see if this truly bizarre attempt to do a New York version of a Rene Clair film makes any more sense than it ever did-- and I note that Harry Langdon:

Image

plays a character called Egghead.

You know, like Egghead:

Image

the oddball Tex Avery character (created in 1938, I believe) who would eventually evolve into Elmer Fudd in the more character-driven cartoons of the 40s and 50s.

Has anyone ever noted the similarity? Langdon affects a kind of baggy-pants, antiquated Victorian look in Hallelujah, I'm a Bum (much more silent-comedy-like than the realistic 30s clothing of the other characters) and that's more or less how Avery's Egghead is dressed as well. Beyond that there aren't a lot of similarities, but the visual one at least is pretty strong.
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Re: Egghead in Hallelujah, I'm a Bum

Unread post by Richard M Roberts » Sat Oct 10, 2009 11:57 am

Mike Gebert wrote:So I'm watching Hallelujah, I'm a Bum-- hey, every twenty years you should check in to see if this truly bizarre attempt to do a New York version of a Rene Clair film makes any more sense than it ever did-- and I note that Harry Langdon:



plays a character called Egghead.

You know, like Egghead:

the oddball Tex Avery character (created in 1938, I believe) who would eventually evolve into Elmer Fudd in the more character-driven cartoons of the 40s and 50s.

Has anyone ever noted the similarity? Langdon affects a kind of baggy-pants, antiquated Victorian look in Hallelujah, I'm a Bum (much more silent-comedy-like than the realistic 30s clothing of the other characters) and that's more or less how Avery's Egghead is dressed as well. Beyond that there aren't a lot of similarities, but the visual one at least is pretty strong.
Hey, watch it, I love HALLELUJAH, I'M A BUM. One can definitely say there's no other picture like it. Perhaps not a completely successful experiment, but where else do you get a relatively subdued performance from Al Jolson, Marvin Loback in a musical number, and Harry Langdon entrancing with the opening line: "Scum!"? And Frank Morgan saying "There's no place like home!" six years before THE WIZARD OF OZ? Morgan's really good in this picture BTW, especially considering all of his scenes were shot after principal photography had finished and he was replacing Roland Young who originally played the Mayor.

Interestingly, I would not be suprised if there may indeed be a similarity between Langdon's character and Tex Avery's Egghead character. At about the same time, the Disney Studio was basing the character of Dopey in SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES on Langdon's mannerisms as well. Silent Comedy had always been a major influence on the animation business.


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Unread post by gjohnson » Sun Oct 11, 2009 7:58 pm

Radio comedian Joe Penner has usually been credited as inspiration for Egghead - if not in design as in voice and personality. Penner's personality is lost on most modern viewers today but it looks as if it wore thin with Avery & company just as quickly as his personae began changing more frequently with each succeeding appearance.

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Unread post by CoffeeDan » Sun Oct 11, 2009 10:49 pm

gjohnson wrote:Radio comedian Joe Penner has usually been credited as inspiration for Egghead - if not in design as in voice and personality. Penner's personality is lost on most modern viewers today but it looks as if it wore thin with Avery & company just as quickly as his personae began changing more frequently with each succeeding appearance.
"We all thought Egghead was a little gross." --Warner Bros. animator Bob Clampett

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Unread post by Mike Gebert » Sun Oct 11, 2009 11:00 pm

Hey, watch it, I love HALLELUJAH, I'M A BUM. One can definitely say there's no other picture like it.
Well, no other American picture-- it's pretty clear they drew some inspiration from A Nous la Liberte. But sure, when it's good, it's pretty good, and when it's bad, it's bad in a different way than most things of its time.

My main problem is, I'm no Jolson fan, and I couldn't help wondering what it would be like with a better, more believable and skillful comic actor in his part, instead of Jolson ladling his warm molasses over every line.

Langdon really comes off well, though-- it's funny that someone who played simpletons in his starring silents is now playing cranky soapbox intellectuals, but there's a common thread of unworldliness that Langdon pulls off quite well.
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Unread post by Richard M Roberts » Sun Oct 11, 2009 11:35 pm

Mike Gebert wrote:
Hey, watch it, I love HALLELUJAH, I'M A BUM. One can definitely say there's no other picture like it.
Well, no other American picture-- it's pretty clear they drew some inspiration from A Nous la Liberte. But sure, when it's good, it's pretty good, and when it's bad, it's bad in a different way than most things of its time.

I think MODERN TIMES draws more from A NOUS LA LIBERTE' than HALLELUJAH, I'M A BUM, but there is somewhat a Clair influence, though I still see a far bigger Lubitsch/Paramount one. This form of movie musical with rhyming dialogue is really something Rodgers and Hart were really trying to pull off at the time, THE PHANTOM PRESIDENT(1932) is in the same boat and fails a lot more miserably.

My main problem is, I'm no Jolson fan, and I couldn't help wondering what it would be like with a better, more believable and skillful comic actor in his part, instead of Jolson ladling his warm molasses over every line.

I don't think I agree. I can't stand Jolson as a rule either, but the character is so arch, unbelievable, and frankly meglomaniacal that it fits Jolson in a subdued mode rather well. Lewis Milestone (and/or Chester Erskine, who really directed a large part of it) actually keeps Jolson's usual playing to the balcony at a mimimum, and for once he actually manages to connect with some of the other folk he's acting with, while still showing some amount of underplayed toughness one would need to run Manhattan as a bum. Cagney is the only other possibility I can think of working, and though it might have been modified to more of a dancing picture, he just didn't have the voice to handle a ballad like "You Are Too Beautiful", which is still one of the most lovely things Rodgers and Hart ever wrote.

Then again, maybe a younger, hungrier, and less sober Bing Crosby (as he was in 1933) might have made something of it.


Langdon really comes off well, though-- it's funny that someone who played simpletons in his starring silents is now playing cranky soapbox intellectuals, but there's a common thread of unworldliness that Langdon pulls off quite well.

Indeed, Langdon does come off rather well, as he had a tendency to do in the occasional supporting role where he had to stretch a bit beyond his original character. Here, he fits his oddball nature into a character that might be more suited to Fritz Feld as written, and manages to make him sympathetic and appealing, apparently to Jolson's displeasure as the star felt Langdon was stealing scenes from him.

Langdon is also really good in his supporting role in his final released film, SWINGIN' ON A RAINBOW (1945), in which he plays an eccentric, but far from stupid radio producer/assistant to Paul Harvey (the actor, not the radio commentator). Wearing a moustache' and still fitting lots of comedy business into a film Director William Beaudine has basically let him walk away with, Langdon comes off more as a Robert Benchley type, which would have suited him fine as a new persona if he had lived to make more movies.


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Unread post by Ray Faiola » Mon Oct 12, 2009 7:45 am

Warners' Egghead was indeed a Joe Penner impersonation, voiced by Dave Webber.
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Unread post by FrankFay » Mon Oct 12, 2009 8:32 am

Jolson is almost human in this picture but doesn't quite pull it off- and "You are too beautiful" is used in such an offhand way that it's almost thrown away. I think that Langdon isn't entirely comfortable in talkies yet- he'd get much better but not in time.
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Unread post by Mike Gebert » Mon Oct 12, 2009 8:40 am

So they say.

Here's Penner.

His first two cartoons aren't online, but here's the cartoon character in his third appearance:

Daffy Duck and Egghead

He doesn't have that much dialogue, so it's hard to say if by now he's meant to sound much like Penner or not. But okay, I'll accept that there's a certain amount of Penner's goofy character there. There's also an Edgar Kennedy slow burn at the very end, and to my mind, some animation just before that that makes him look a lot like Koko the Clown.

Now here's Egghead a year later:

A Day at the Zoo

Now he's in the semi-Victorian costume which Elmer would inherit; he appears at around 3:04 and his only line is a radio comedian's catchphrase. Only, it's not one of Penner's catchphrases-- it's Lou Costello's. (Admittedly, in the same vein, but definitely a line associated with Costello.) He repeats it around 5:09 and at the end for the closing gag.

To me there's basically no sign of Penner by this point. The fact that he's now imitating another childlike comedian shows how malleable he was and that imitating Penner wasn't a long term character strategy.

My feeling is, though Egghead may have imitated Penner vocally at the beginning, visually his look and something of his manner came from another well-known comedian playing, yes, a character called Egghead. (Not exactly a stretch.) And over time, the most topical aspect of his character, imitating Penner, faded, while the parts he got from Langdon not only lasted but outlived him, being retained in part by Elmer Fudd as he evolved out of Egghead and the Penner-isms vanished entirely.
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Unread post by Ian Elliot » Mon Oct 12, 2009 7:53 pm

It's curious that both Disney and Avery would make use of Langdon's persona and costume when his career was at its lowest ebb. To state some of the particulars for those who may not know: having been out of the U.S. for a year and a half, Langdon, his wife and infant son returned in mid '37 to face a year of extremely slim pickings and heavy legal action for his alimony arrears, alleviated in part when Stan Laurel got him employed on the L&H writing team.

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Unread post by Richard M Roberts » Tue Oct 13, 2009 1:46 am

Ian Elliot wrote:It's curious that both Disney and Avery would make use of Langdon's persona and costume when his career was at its lowest ebb. To state some of the particulars for those who may not know: having been out of the U.S. for a year and a half, Langdon, his wife and infant son returned in mid '37 to face a year of extremely slim pickings and heavy legal action for his alimony arrears, alleviated in part when Stan Laurel got him employed on the L&H writing team.
Well, it was mid-1938 actually, but that may have been the reason Langdon was on everyone's mind due to his making the rounds looking for work. Then again, realizing that SNOW WHITE was in production a long time before its release in 1937, they made this decision way before Langdon returned to the States. I recall some correspondence at Disney regarding hiring Langdon to film some live action footage for the Disney Animators to use as a guide, and concern as to a supposed drinking problem that might make him unhirable. I don't think they ever did use him to make that footage, but he was definitely an influence in the character, as well as Harpo Marx.

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Unread post by JB Kaufman » Tue Oct 13, 2009 8:58 am

Richard, you're right, Langdon and Harpo Marx were both invoked as influences on the character of Dopey, as was Stan Laurel. (Laurel's out-of-step marching scene in Bonnie Scotland was a direct influence on the hitch-step that Dopey does throughout the picture.) A number of Disney staffers performed in odd bits of live-action reference footage for miscellaneous dwarfs, but the only comedian explicitly hired to perform live action for Dopey was Eddie Collins, whose career got a boost out of it.
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Unread post by Ian Elliot » Tue Oct 13, 2009 7:23 pm

Sorry to belabour such a small point--and Mr. Roberts' command of film history makes me reluctant to cavil--but I reckoned that the Langdon's came back to the US in 1937 after seeing their names on a passenger manifest for a ship arriving in New York from Southampton in mid-May of that year. This may be an error (or perhaps they went abroad again), but if true, it could indicate that Langdon then languished for several months without any work. WISE GUYS, the British picture (quota quickie?) Langdon directed with Naughton and Gold, didn't release until August '37, but could have been completed before May.

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Unread post by Richard M Roberts » Wed Oct 14, 2009 2:01 am

Ian Elliot wrote:Sorry to belabour such a small point--and Mr. Roberts' command of film history makes me reluctant to cavil--but I reckoned that the Langdon's came back to the US in 1937 after seeing their names on a passenger manifest for a ship arriving in New York from Southampton in mid-May of that year. This may be an error (or perhaps they went abroad again), but if true, it could indicate that Langdon then languished for several months without any work. WISE GUYS, the British picture (quota quickie?) Langdon directed with Naughton and Gold, didn't release until August '37, but could have been completed before May.
No, you're actually right. My sleepy brain was thinking when Laurel got Langdon on the Roach payroll, not when they returned from England. But Langdon did do some work in that lean year, he shot A DOG-GONE MIXUP for Columbia in October, 1937 (even though it wasn't released until Feb 4, 1938). But I think he was also laying low until he got his back alimony issues straightened out and cleared away.

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