Harold Lloyd is commonly grouped in with two other famous comedians of the time, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Lloyd had his own style and brand of comedy that evolved a lot from the early 1010’s through the 1930’s. He is most remembered for his films featuring thrills and excitement, yet those films only make up a small percentage of his collection. His films, much like those of Chaplin and Keaton, were romantic comedies. Each film tended to rely on prat falls, gags, and stunts, however they all surrounded around a romantic interest.
One major difference in the production of Lloyd’s films were that he was mostly credited as an actor. He was not credited as the auteur in the same way as Chaplin or Keaton, yet his success and involvement in the productions are unquestionable. Throughout the 1910’s and 1920’s, Lloyd would be in more films than Chaplin and Keaton combined. Harold was in 201 films in this period, whereas, Chaplin would be in 79, and Keaton would be in 53.
His film career started in a similar fashion to that of Keaton and Chaplin. In that he found his way in to comedy while along side Roscoe Arbuckle. However, he did not seek out to become a comedic actor. His dream was to become a dramatic actor and spent his early years in theater. Hal Roach, his later film collaborator, said, “Harold Lloyd was not a comedian. But he was the finest actor to play a comedian that I ever saw.”
He got his start working for the Edison Film Company in 1912 in California. He had moved there two years prior when his parents were divorced and his father relocated to San Diego. His first credited film is The Old Monk’s Tale. I was unable to find a copy of the film to watch, but apparently he plays a Yaqui Native American.
In 1913, Lloyd began working for Keystone pictures and with the mentor of them all, Roscoe Arbuckle. He worked on many pictures with Keystone, but only a few where he was credited a role. One example of a credited role is Miss Fatty’s Seaside Lovers, starring Roscoe Arbuckle. It was not until he started working with Hal Roach that his career began to take off.
Willie Work & Lonesome Luke
Lloyd created characters Willie Work and Lonesome Luke with director Hal Roach. The concept of Lonesome Luke spawned from the success of Chaplin’s Tramp character. Something that was common at the time. I could only find a couple Lonesome Luke films, Lonesome Luke, Messenger, Luke’s Movie Muddle and Clubs are Trump. It is unfortunate because there were at least 67 Lonesome Luke films made.
In these films, his character does not have a similar vibe to the Tramp. Loneseome Luke’s similarities are primarily based on his attire. The character type was different as well, he was more aggressive and the stories were centered on his bullying. The character was also more polymorphic, in that he was not a set defined personality that was recurring. Either way, his films were successful and were even distributed via the American branch of Pathé.
Luke’s Movie Muddle
The Lonesome Luke films also featured Snub Pollard, Bebe Daniels, and later included comedy regulars like: Bud Jamison and Gus Leonard. Snub Pollard and Bebe Daniels were part of the regular cast from the start, however it would not be until 1917 that the casts would grow larger and include actors seen in Chaplin and Keaton films.
In 1917, Lloyd would move away from the Lonesome Luke films and start a new persona, “Glasses”, or “The Boy”, or just Harold. This optimistic go-getter persona would be the character that Lloyd would be remembered for. Although, it took a few years for this character to develop as well.
At first the character resembled Lonesome Luke, he was still a bit of a bully. However, this soon changed and the character formed in to the optimistic and relentlessly persistent young man that Harold Lloyd is remembered for playing.
Over the Fence (1917)
The first short film featuring Lloyd’s “glasses” character was Over the Fence. A young tailor named Ginger (Lloyd) finds two tickets to a baseball game through the mishap of his coworker, played by Snub Pollard. Ginger calls up his girl, Bebe Daniels, to invite her to the game. However, his coworker stealthily takes the tickets out of Ginger’s pockets and ends up taking Ginger’s girl to the game instead. Thus, Ginger gets stuck outside and ends up pretending to be a player in order to get in to the game. A fight between Ginger and his coworker ensues and he ends the film with the girl.
The premise is simple and the film is short, only 6 minutes long. However, we get a glimpse at the who the “glasses” character is. He is a representation of the everyman; a hard-worker, not extremely poor like the tramp, and not as clumsy as Buster. Even though Lloyd changed the character he still kept his two acting counterparts, Snub Pollard and Bebe Daniels.
Ask Father (1919)
Lloyd’s character had developed in the next two years to become more slapstick. Lloyd’s characters would continue with the prat falls and gags that were so popular in this time period. However, he would start to get more daring with his stunts. Ask Father features a sequence where Lloyd climbs up to the second story of a building in order to climb in through the window. It is daring enough to clearly be dangerous, but reasonable enough that I imagine that Lloyd did this himself, without a stunt man. It is perhaps the film that Lloyd describes making after witnessing a street performer scale a building and do acrobatics on the roof.
Interview with Harold Lloyd about his stunts and thrills.
It is interesting how Lloyd doesn’t remember himself as the thrill based silent film comedian. Perhaps his cherry picked stunts have just molded his memory when compared to his contemporaries.
A few months after the release of Ask Father, Lloyd would blow up his hand during a photoshoot promo. During the photoshoot in August of 1919, Lloyd played with a prop bomb, that turned out to be real, and it went off in his hand. The incident left his right hand without a finger and thumb. On top of that, he injured his eye and burned his face.
He was able to make a quick recovery and was back making films after only a few months. He began to use a special glove fitted with prosthetics that allowed his character to appear to have a complete hand. The thin leather and snug design of the glove made it almost impossible to spot.
The incident took place when Lloyd was filming the movie Haunted Spooks. If you look closely, you can see scenes where he has full control over his hand and others were his mobility is limited. It is incredible that Lloyd was able to recover the way he did and go on to be one of the biggest stars of Hollywood.
Growth in Popularity and two & three reel shorts
In 1919, Lloyd began release his two and three reel film shorts and began to surpass Chaplin in popularity. The sheer volume of films coming out mixed with his relatable characters allowed Lloyd to take off. The news of the bomb incident followed up by the release of Bumping on Broadway resulted in huge attendance.
Bumping into Broadway (1919)
Lloyd’s first two reel film was Bumping into Broadway in 1919. The film was a major release after the news of the bomb incident and it apparently helped to draw a crowd. Bumping on Broadway was a respectable box office success at ~$113,000. It was not as successful as Daddy-Long-Legs ($1,250,000), Male or Female ($1,250,000), or The Miracle Man ($1,000,000). However, for a two reel comedy, it held its own.
Lloyd plays the boy, a fledgling playwright, and Bebe Daniels plays the girl, an aspiring Broadway actress. Both live penny pinching lives in a boarding house in New York City. The girl runs out of money and is unable to pay rent and so the boy gives her the last of his money. This leaves him short for the month and the forcible eviction leads to the inevitable silent comedy chase sequence.
Both the boy and the girl try to achieve their dreams of success, fame, and fortune in Broadway. However, both come up short in their efforts in the same playhouse. He is unsuccessful in selling his play and she is kicked out of her show. However, the two of them do not leave together. Instead, she leaves with a “stage-door johnnie” to a private gambling club. The boy follows and ends up playing roulette with some money he finds on the floor. He accidently finds himself bankrupting the casino at the same time as a police raid, resulting in the typical police chase ending.
From Hand to Mouth (1919)
From Hand to Mouth was the first film featuring Mildred Davis as Lloyd’s costar, instead of Bebe Daniels. It also includes his standard costar, Snub Pollard, as well as Peggy Cartwright as the hungry waif. The waif is not his child, however she brings a sympathetic and more dramatic angle to the film that I did not see in earlier Harold Lloyd films. It does not rise to the level of Chaplin’s The Kid, however it shows that Lloyd was thinking about ways to make the characters more engaging and complex.
Snub Pollard, credited as Harry Pollard, plays the villain. His demeanor and trademark mustache play perfectly into the role of the comically villainous gang member. This film would mark Pollard’s second to last role along side Lloyd. The next film, His Royal Slyness, would be the final film they would make together.
The Girl (Davis) is set to inherit a fortune if she can prove that she is the rightful heir, otherwise the money goes to her foster brother. The crooked lawyer, that is reading the will, neglects to inform her that she has until midnight to produce the evidence and pays the Kidnapper (Pollard) to ensure she does not make the deadline.
The Boy (Lloyd) and an orphan child (Cartwright) are desperately trying to get food by any means necessary. They get into trouble when they get caught with some counterfeit money they found. However, The Girl saves them by paying their debts.
The boy ends up getting tangled in with the kidnappers gang while running for the cops. The kidnappers make their way to the girl’s house and plan to use the boy as the scapegoat. However, his incompetence only infuriates them. Once he realizes that he is in the middle of the kidnapping of his savior from earlier that day, he does everything he can to save her. The boy is unable to convince any police officers that he needs help and so he decides to lure them back to the hideout by punching and taunting every officer he can find.
Lloyd does an excellent job of portraying an innocent average joe. He means well and his naivety just adds to his innocence. His stunts are not as glamorous as Keaton’s, but he is still able to weave the narrative around the stunts well and not draw out the chase scenes too much. It seems like just about all of these silent comedies have at least 30% of the movie as a chase sequence, but so far Lloyds seem to be below that average.
Haunted Spooks (1920)
Lloyd’s fifth multi reel film was Haunted Spooks. The story surrounds a young woman, Mildred Davis, who inherits a fortune as long as she can stay in the family homestead for one year. The issue is that there is no husband. Lloyd comes in as the hopeless romantic that turns to suicide after his failed attempts at love. He is setup with the young woman and they set off to stay in the family house. Unbeknownst to them, the aunt and uncle are waiting for them so that they can deploy their Scooby-Doo scare tactics on them in order to keep the inheritance for themselves.
The first half of Haunted Spooks surrounds Lloyd’s “The Boy” character trying to commit suicide. The attempts are made after a failed courtship. He tries everything from shooting himself in the head (with what turns out to be a toy gun), standing on train tracks, trying to get hit by a car, and drowning himself. It comes across as comical and clearly over the top, but it was surprising to see that kind of subject matter in a film this old. It would seem that the subject of suicide would be too taboo for a mainstream film, but apparently not for Lloyd.
Another interest fact about the film is that Lloyd blew up his hand during a photoshoot, while filming Haunted Spooks. Thus, various scenes are filmed with Lloyd’s fully intact hand and others are filmed when with his prosthetic and glove that he would use for the rest of his career.
Never Weaken (1921)
Harold Lloyd’s last short film was Never Weaken, released in October of 1921. The only reason this is his last short film is because he decided not to cut down his subsequent film, A Sailer-made Man and it became a hit.
The film features some of the thrilling sequences that would later become synonymous with Lloyd. He filmed the movie up on a hill and so it appeared that they were as high up as the skyscrapers of the city. So the daring feats were amplified without the cast having to risk their necks. An idea that Lloyd leaned in to years later for Safety Last!
There is also another suicide attempt in Never Weaken. Apparently he did not get the suicide gags out of his system in Haunted Spooks. This time, he make several attempts and just cant bring himself to do it. His final attempt is to shoot himself, while blindfolded, and through a series of events he ends up hoisted up and out of the window and onto the skyscraper that is under construction.
A Sailor-made Man (1921)
Two months after Never Weaken Lloyd would release his first feature film, A Sailor-Made Man.
A Sailor-made Man starts off as you would expect for a romantic comedy. Immature and spoiled boy wants the girl, but has to prove his worth first. This stage is set with Lloyd’s character, the boy, going through a day in the life at the country club. It is clear that he saunters through life like he owns the place, full of entitlement and complete disregard for others. When he finds himself lusting for the local catch, played by Mildred Davis, he is forced to get a job to show he has drive and can be responsible.
The closest and easiest job opportunity turns out to be the navy enlistment office. The Boy skips the line and effortlessly gets enlisted by annoying the recruitment officer into submission. After leaving the recruiting office he runs into the Girl who invites him on a pleasure cruise. He swiftly does a 180 and asks the recruiting officer to take him off the list. Instead, the officer sends him for his physical and off to the navy.
Now in the Navy, the Boy must hold his own and survive in a much different life than the country club. He quickly makes an enemy of tough dimwitted sailor, played by Noah Young, and just as quickly befriends him. Eventually, the two of them go ashore and find themselves at the same place as The Girl. She ends up catching the eye of the Maharajah of Khairpura-Bhandanna, played by Dick Sutherland. He commands his guards to capture her, leading to her heroic rescue by the Boy and his new friend.
In the end, A Sailor-Made Man is more of a bromance between the Boy and his sailor friend, The Rowdy Element. There is nothing wrong with that, but the film lacks what could have been easy character development for the Boy. It is hard to tell if he actually learned any lessons. Sure, his character rescues the girl in the end, but his “growth” to that point was illustrated through con after con, similar to his starting point.
Harold supposedly decided to run the preview of the film with all of the gags. Essentially previewing an extended cut with the hopes of identifying which scenes did not land with the audience. However, the audience received the film well in that state and so he left it alone. This resulted in Harold releasing his first feature length film.
Harold had a smooth transition to feature films. This was likely due to the relationship he had with Hal Roach, his popularity, and that his film budgets were small. The film is noted as having a budget of $77k and grossing over $400k in the box office. A low budget and high return film likely made it a no-brainer to make the permanent transition to feature length films.
Grandma’s Boy (1922)
Harold Lloyd’s Grandma’s Boy was directed by Fred C Newmayer and written by the core of writers for many of Harold’s films; Hal Roach, Sam Taylor, Jean Havez, and H.M. Walker. The character development in Grandma’s Boy is significantly more developed than in A Sailor-Made Man. It is more developed than most of their previous works as a team. We actually get to see Harold’s character, The Boy, transform from completely devoid of self esteem to fighting off his lifelong bully and finally asking The Girl out.
It seems like it should not be as noteworthy that a character in a story is developed throughout the film, but these old films were pretty short and tended not to have true character arcs. So this kind of development really stands out when it is followed through. I understand now why Grandma’s Boy is compared to Chaplin’s film, The Kid. Grandma’s Boy doesn’t have the same kind of sentimental and dramatic edge as The Kid, however it does go beyond a 45 minute reel of gags with no fully composed story arc.
When reading up on Harold Lloyd, it seems like his thrilling sequences and optimistic average joe persona tend to be what get associated with his name. For Chaplin, it is his ability to blend drama and comedy. In Keaton’s case, it is his ingenuity and uniquely creative stunts and gags. The odd thing is that I have not come across many thrilling sequences yet. The closest scene in this film would be towards the end when The Boy is fighting his bully and they tumble out of a second story barn window.
The fall out of the barn window is not necessarily the most thrilling time, but just before. It is the building anticipation of the two fighting in the tight quarters of the barn and then the cut to them falling out of the window. I know there are more thrilling sequences to come, with Safety Last up next.
The film is a good watch though and I can understand why it, and Lloyd in general, were so successful. With a budget of under $100k, Grandma’s Boy turned a box office gross revenue of over $1.1m in US/Canada alone.1 His films were simple and low budget, especially compared to Keaton films, and were a smash hit at box offices. He also plays relatable characters. He is typically not rich, nor desperately poor, like The Tramp. His characters are typically modest and good-natured. These characteristics, plus his brand of gags clearly resonated with audiences in the 1920’s.
Safety Last, Marriage, and the end of Mildred Davis’ acting career
In 1923, Lloyd would put out one of his biggest films and propose to his co-star, Mildred Davis. Safety Last would go on to be one of his most memorable films and his marriage to Mildred Davis would continue until her death in 1969. Her last film would be Too Many Crooks in 1927, but that was a project orchestrated by Lloyd for Davis. Her acting career would effectively end with her marriage to Lloyd. With that said, Harold Lloyd was one of the richest men in Hollywood, and the world at the time, and his estate at famed Greenacres, was a good place to retire.
Safety Last (1923)
Safety Last is Lloyd’s fourth feature length film and features his most famous, and thrilling, sequence. Although before we get to the film’s climax, it is best to start at the beginning. Safety Last starts off with an homage to Keaton’s Cops, which had come out a year prior. Lloyd’s character, the Boy, appears to be talking with his “Girl”, played by Mildred Davis, as he is behind bars and awaiting execution by hanging. It turns out that he is just talking to her through the fence to the railroad station and the noose in the background is just a railway token hanging on a hook.
The idea behind the film is also similar to Cops. The Boy is trying to prove his worth, specifically through his business acumen, in order to get the girl. In Keaton’s case, he stumbles through misunderstanding after misunderstanding until he finds himself pissing off the entire police force and in the end getting snubbed by the girl. For Lloyd, the story is much different. He is skimping and scraping in order to survive, while misleading the Girl through his daily letters. She eventually takes the train out to surprise him. When she arrives at the department store, where he is a clerk, he quickly puts on a show to make it seem like he is actually the General Manager.
The ruse is successful, but not sustainable. Coincidentally, the Boy overhears the real General Manager offer $1000 to anyone that can bring hundreds of people to the store. Upon hearing that, the Boy suggests that they advertise that a mystery man climb the façade of the store, a skyscraper. The Boy’s roommate, “Lumpy” Bill (Strother), is a construction worker that scaled a building with ease earlier in the film while escaping a police officer, and so the Boy knows that his friend can do it.
On the day of the event, the police officer reads the newspaper and correctly believes that the mystery man that is going to climb the building is the same individual that eluded him before. The Cop stakes out the event and begins to chase “Lumpy” Bill once he see’s him, forcing the Boy to scale the building himself in Bill’s place.
Lloyd does an excellent job at scaling the building in a way that looks like he has no business climbing a building. He gets hit with the unexpected, although expected, gauntlet of mishaps (i.e. someone losing a net that entangles him, birds swarming around his head, etc…). He also does a great job at selling his character’s uncomfortable approach to climbing. All of these factors add to the tension perfectly.
It is also interesting that the epitome of the American go-getter attitude and zeitgeist of the era is forced to scale a 12 story building in order to make enough for ends meet. It is portrayed as an amount that he can retire on, when really it is just enough to get him on a solid track of long-term comfortability. Even 100 years ago, a desperation act like that to get out of poverty made perfect sense and was within the realm of reason.
Why Worry (1923)
Harold’s first feature after Safety Last! and being married to Mildred Davis, was Why Worry. A story about a millionaire hypochondriac named Harold Van Pelham (Lloyd) that sets off for Paradisio, South America in order to “get better”. When he arrives he is mistaken by the revolutionaries for an incoming banker and so they go out of their way to cause trouble for him and throw him in prison. He has a relenting focus on his health, that clearly worries him, yet has an otherwise completely care-free mentality about everything else around him. He spends a large portion of the beginning of the film, sauntering around the war stricken city. Not taking in just how much danger he is in.
This would be the first film in almost four years where Mildred Davis was not his co-star. Instead, Jobyna Ralston took over as the leading lady, playing the role of his nurse. Her character took over as the love interest for Harold and would do so for the next four years.
The other co-stars were Wallace Howe, as Harold’s Valet, John Aasen, as the giant Colosso, and James Mason, as the revolutionary villain Jim Blake. Wallace Howe had been part of Lloyd’s regular players since 1918 and continued to be until The Milky Way in 1936.
John Aasen’s Colosso character towers over Lloyd and every other actor. It seems as though his exact height was not recorded, however he is clearly over seven feet tall. His character has super human strength and let’s Harold escape prison with him. In return, Harold helps him relieve his toothache by comically removing the tooth by any means necessary. After Harold relieves him of his pain, Colosso becomes a dedicated servant to Harold; protecting him from the dangers of the war and ultimately helping free Harold from his hypochondria.
James Mason plays the villain leader of the revolutionaries and becomes infatuated with Harold’s nurse. Mason was an actor that played the villain a lot in films and worked with great filmmakers like Cecile B. DeMille, Lon Chaney, Douglas Fairbanks, and Adolph Zukor.
The film is full of the comedic setups and gags that are common for the silent era comedies. Lloyd walks his characters line of debilitating delusion and stepping up to do what is right. Even though his character believes he is sick and uses that as a crutch to be carefree, he is still able to overcome that in order to defend those around him. At least once reality sets in that he is in a war zone.
The Beginning of Independence
Girl Shy (1924)
Harold’s feature, Girl Shy, was more of a romance than a comedy. His character was a young shy tailor’s assistant with a stutter. As the title of the film suggests, he was shy around the ladies. He is tasked with manning the front desk and thus, must talk with all of the women coming in for the tailored clothes and for impromptu touch ups. Even though he has a crippling stutter, you can still see his charm come through.
At night, the young tailor spends his time writing in his attic. His book is a guide, titled The Secret of Making Love. In it he writes how to carefully craft ones actions depending on the type of girl you are trying to woo. He clearly is not basing the actions within the book on his real life, but instead creatively exaggerating what he believes to be the secrets of the opposite sex. It seems that the key is to instill a deep desire by being confident, indifferent, and domineering. Characteristics that he does not possess. He clearly is set to learn that what he thinks women want is wrong and that he already has characteristics that can win the woman of his dreams; charisma and warm-heartedness.
He sets off by train to get his book published and on the way runs into Mary, a young lady, played by Jobyna Ralston. She is forced to leave her dog behind as it is not allowed on the train and Harold secretly sneaks the dog back on board. From there they spark a romance that comes to an abrupt stop upon arrival.
They both go their separate ways. Harold drops his book off at the publisher and then goes back to his town. Mary on the other hand, drives off to meet with her fiancé who is vacationing. On her way back from the vacation, Mary decides to detour in Harold’s town of Little Bend, where she runs into him while he is fishing. Their afternoon together sparks Harold to want to add a more authentic chapter to his book. One based on a real experience.
Harold heads back to the publisher to find that all of the readers find his book to be a joke. Before he can amend his book, the head of the publisher tells him the book is rejected. A now defeated Harold pushes away Mary in an uncharacteristic way. He tells her that the whole fling was a jest, an experiment for his next book, and saunters off with a nearby stranger. Regretful, Harold goes back home and Mary goes back to her fiancé to schedule a wedding
In a turn of events, the publisher decides that the book could be published. However, not as a guide, but as The Boob’s Diary. When Harold receives the royalty check in the mail instead of the rejection letter, he is outraged. He is quickly distracted by an article in the paper that Mary is to be wed that day. He sets off for the classic race to the altar so that he can stop the wedding.
As expected, Harold gets to the altar one second before the ring is placed on Mary’s finger and the wedding is called off. Harold then proposes to Mary and they live hapily ever after.
Change in Producer & Style
Girl Shy has a different feel and style than some of Harold Lloyd’s other films. The majority of the film is a typical romance with only a hint of comedy. Girl Shy could be compared to the many rom-coms of today. It is not until the ending race to the altar that we get the typical chase scene with thrills, prat falls, and other gags of the time. It is interesting to see a film with this kind of story and character development when compared to Keaton and Chaplin’s films.
Keaton and Chaplin’s films tended to be interlaced with more gags and pratfalls than in Lloyd’s Girl Shy. Lloyd’s focus on the character development shifted the film to be almost more of a drama than a comedy. His desire to make this transition shows how was ready to transition away from gags and the timing could not have been better. With sound films on the horizon, the pantomime style of filmmaking would become ancient history in the blink of an eye.
One fundamental change that allowed this to happen was that Hal Roach and Lloyd had split, and Girl Shy was produced independently by Harold Lloyd. This change allowed him to have more creative control over the story and production. He made a conscious decision to focus more on the story and less on the gags and that transition was in step with the future of filmmaking.
The Freshman (1925)
Lloyd’s third film as a producer and one of his more influential. The film focuses on a college freshman as he begins his college career. His dreams of being popular, successful, and the football star lead him to be disillusioned of what college life is really like. His wholesome naivete also makes him an easy target for ridicule once he arrives.
He inevitably runs into the girl of his dreams, tries out for the football team, and tries to become pals with everyone on campus. The football team initially dismisses him, but allow him to be the water boy due to his persistence. However, his role is kept secret and Harold believes he is an actual player on the team. Harold finally gets his shot when enough players get injured in a game that they are forced to put Harold in. Mishap after mishap ensues until Harold wins the game and wins the girl.
The biggest legacy of The Freshman is the influence it has on later films. The naive, unpopular, or misfit goes off to college with high hopes only to discover that they are an outcast. Once they discover this, they turn things around by achieving something that no one believed was possible. There are contemporary comparisons, like, Buster Keaton’s College or Pigskin Parade, or more modern examples like, Revenge of the Nerds or The Waterboy.
For Heaven’s Sake (1926)
The three final silent films that Lloyd would release were For Heaven’s Sake, Kid Brother, and Speedy. All three would be financial successes for Lloyd. For Heaven’s Sake was the second film under Lloyd’s independent production that focused less on character development and more on the gags. The first film being Hot Water (1924). For Heaven’s Sake fits the mold of most of the Lloyd films from the early 20’s. Lloyd plays a millionaire that accidently funds a Charity mission. When he finds out he seeks out the mission so that he can disassociate his name, but ends up falling in love with the daughter, Jobyna Ralston, of the mission leader.
Kid Brother (1927)
The next film was Kid Brother, which ended up being the last film featuring co-star Jobyna Ralston. LLoyd plays the weakest and youngest brother of a rural family of rugged men. The family looks down on Harold and treat him as the odd man out. When his father and brothers go into town for a meeting, he is left to man the homestead alone. A traveling medicine show comes by and ends up setting up camp. A member of the medicine show is Mary, played by Jobyna Ralston, who becomes Harold’s love interest. The strongman of the show, Sandoni, and the show leader, “Flash” end up stealing cash from the family and escaping. Harold ends up saving the day by apprehending the men and bringing the funds back home and getting the girl at the same time.
Lloyd revisits some of the themes from Grandma’s Boy in which a weak and meek character breaks through to reveal that he had what it takes to stand up for himself. On top of that, the film is also set in a similar setting as Grandma’s Boy. Many of the previous Lloyd films had been set in cities, on trains, on a college campus. It had been many years since the primary plot took place in a more rural setting.
There are also a couple interesting sequences that stood out while watching Kid Brother. One is a vertical tracking shot that follows Harold up as he scales a tree so that he can call out to Mary. We get to see Harold climb up the tree in real time, as well gain the additional sight and perspective as his character. The other is the final confrontation with his nemesis. As they begin to scuffle on the dirt road, the dirt begins to engulf them until it takes over the entire shot. As the dust clears we see Harold off on the arm of Mary and the nemesis laying in the dirt.
The end of the silent film era & The Academy of Motion Picture Arts
The end of the silent era is marked by the release of The Jazz Singer in 1927. For Lloyd, this meant the beginning of the end of his popularity and film career. With that said, he would go on to make talking films and have success. However, his character was not as relatable in the depression era and his sheer volume of films began to dwindle as he slowed down production.
Before that decline, Lloyd would make one more silent film, Speedy, and become a founding member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts. The Academy did not start out as a mechanism to distribute awards, but as a filmmaker collective functioning as an alternative to a union. The organization was spearheaded by Louis B. Mayer, but was formalized at a banquet on January 11, 1927. All attendees at this banquet were established as the founding members and Harold Lloyd was one of these select few.
Harold Lloyd’s 1928 film, Speedy, would become his final silent film. Speedy is mostly a gag filled film that once again fits into the rom-com model. The sequence that stood out the most to me had two key features. The first was pop culture cameos from Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. The second was while Harold drives Babe Ruth to Yankee Stadium we see the precursor to a scene in Dumb and Dumber. As Harold drives the Babe, he is unable to keep his eyes on the road. Ruth, who is looking forward, is seeing all of the oncoming traffic desperately swerving out of the way. Harold on the other hand, is completely engrossed in Ruth’s presence.
Welcome Danger (1929)
Welcome Danger was Lloyd’s first talkie. It is astonishing how much different his films are when they’re no longer silent. The ability for dialogue to take place and for quicker remarks, makes the comedic style vastly different. Lloyd, and others, no longer needed to rely so heavily on the physical exaggeration of movements and pantomime.
Harold Lloyd focused more on character development in his first talkie, than gags and stunts. The first third of the film follows Harold as he meets and falls in love with Billie, Barbara Kent, as they cross paths heading west to San Francisco. Billie is heading out in order to seek medical help for her younger brother and Harold is responding to a request to fill his police captain father’s shoes. The two get separated while heading west and reunite in San Fransisco.
When Harold arrives in San Francisco, he discovers that he has been called out in hopes that he can live up to his father’s caliber of detective work and apprehend the crime lord, “The Dragon”. Harold turns out to have either a knack or dumb luck when it comes to apprehending criminals and finding clues and he ends up in the middle of uncovering the criminal plot.
The introduction of sound and dialogue allows for a significantly increased amount of plot action and nuance that Lloyds films could not have before. He was clearly comfortable with the transition to talkies. There are a lot more jokes with the dialogue then would ever be possible with intertitles and thus more focus is on those then on gags and prat falls. Although, Harold is still able to slip those in.
***More to come when I watch movies from the 30’s***