The Hansom Cabman (2007)

for chamber ensemble, 20 minutes


Instrumentation: clarinets, saxophone, piano, accordion, percussion



Main Title

Second-hand Opium

Performers: The Snark Ensemble


Film synopsis and musical notes:


Act I
Groom-to-be and hotel guest Harry Langdon, hung over from the previous night's bachelor party, is given a wake-up call by his fiancee, Betty Brief.  Harry's less-than-enthusiastic response prompts worry on Betty's part, who promptly brings her mother with her to visit Harry in the hotel.  Harry is then subjected to an entrapment scheme wrought by his butler: a woman Harry has never seen appears who claims to have married him at the previous night's party.  At that moment, Betty and mother appear, and great misunderstandings ensue (involving pistol, knife, suitcases flying out of a window hitting a cop on the end, falling down stairs) which culminates in Harry's arrest.


Act II

Harry is brought before the judge, who happens to be Betty's father.  The judge throws Harry in the slammer until his trial, where Harry meets a curious collection of individuals.  Through a strange set of circumstances, Harry manages to escape from the county jail. 



The next day, the butler and the "strange woman" confess their scheme to the judge, and Harry is vindicated.  When the judge calls the jail to order Harry's release, however, he learns that Harry has escaped. 


Harry, meanwhile, dons the disguise of a hansom cab driver to avoid detection.  Eventually, a chase ensues (Harry gets to act the cab driver once, in a wonderful scene in which his Chinese passengers' opium pipes affect Harry's senses). 

At last, all is well, Harry is reunited with Betty and mother, and they proceed once more to be married. 


The music for this two-reeler draws fully upon jazz, tango, and other popular idioms for its effect. Although the musical style references the 1920's jazz age, the music is contemporary in sound and style.  The woodwind doubler (Maurice Saylor) employs several clarinets and saxophones in the course of the film.


The April 2007 premiere of The Hansom Cabman, performed live to the newly-restored version of the film, represents the first screening of that film in more than 60 years.


My score for The Hansom Cabman was recorded by the Snark Ensemble in summer 2007 to be included on the 4-DVD box set Harry Langdon, Lost and Found (2007).


--Andrew Earle Simpson

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