LITTLE ELF: A CELEBRATION OF HARRY LANGDON by Chuck Harter and Michael J. Hayde is actually two amazing books within a single binding: the first 327 pages is the fascinating life story of this unjustly overlooked yet iconic comedian, whose career spanned the vaudeville stage, Broadway, silent films, and the talkies. The next section - 271 pages - is a complete "Films of Harry Langdon" book in itself, with movie synopses, critical evaluation, a compendium of "Harry moments," enumerating Harry Langdon highlights for many of the films (a brilliant concept in itself), contemporary reviews, and feedback from movie exhibitors and audiences of that era. As if all this weren't enough, bonus features include complete transcripts of Langdon's vaudeville scripts; reproduced movie magazine articles about Langdon from the 1920s and '30s; and, a recreation of Langdon's now-lost silent feature, HEART TROUBLE, using numerous stills and the original cutting continuity, providing the reader with a tantalizing idea of what this film might have been like.
This total work, at nearly 700 large-formatted pages, and weighing over 4 pounds, would be impressive if just for the incredibly detailed research, the original and previously unpublished interviews done by earlier Langdon scholars, and an astounding 500-plus photographs, most of which have not been seen in over 75 years. But the book is also extremely well-written, with a fair and balanced assessment of Harry Langdon's qualities as a creative comedian, and the most comprehensive examination of the now-legendary "feud" between Langdon and director Frank Capra. Objectively approached, the conclusions are pretty clear that Capra went to his grave a vindictive and bitter man. Despite international fame and fortune, Capra could not refrain from hiding his intense hatred of Langdon and publicly took credit for more than his share of Harry Langdon's success.
Granted, I don't always agree with the authors' assessments of some of Harry Langdon's comedies. I believe that the Langdon-directed feature THE CHASER, though uneven, remains one of his best silents and an intensely personal film, while several of Harry's shorts for Columbia (such as COLD TURKEY) are better showcases for Langdon's talent than the authors are willing to acknowledge. However, these are just differences of opinion, and one can readily appreciate the many delights in this book without taking issue over personal viewpoints on specific films. LITTLE ELF is sometimes provocative and it's always stimulating reading.
The authors indicated in interviews that this book took 18 months to complete...given that there were two people dedicating all their time to complete this labor of love, that's three years of intensive research and writing. The effort shows, because this is a magnificent work, and if you buy only one film book this year...THIS is the one to get!