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#183. Harold Lloyd

Slapstick comedy was popular in the early ages of film because of its highly visual nature. Because of its popularity, three men emerged as the founding fathers of this genre. Having already written about Charlie Chaplin, the next person in this lineage of comedy masters is that of Harold Lloyd. Perhaps the least known of the three (which also includes Buster Keaton); Lloyd was in the middle of these two legends, which is possibly why he isn’t known for as many films. Inspired by Chaplin and an inspiration to Keaton, Harold Lloyd has created some very impressive stunts through his career. Taking a cue from Chaplin, Lloyd’s characters are recognizable by the round glasses they wear (and occasional flat-top hat), thus establishing his characters as uniquely Lloyd. This week’s two films highlight some excellent works by Harold Lloyd.

The Kid BrotherThe Kid Brother
Year: 1927
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 82 minutes / 1.36 hours

Aside from the iconic glasses he wore in his films, Harold Lloyd’s characters exhibited a few other traits as well. Most of them were named Harold, for obvious reasons. They were also a bit of a deviation from Chaplin’s recurring character of “The Tramp” because Lloyd’s character was rarely someone living in poverty. To add a relational aspect to his films, almost all of them involved the main character, usually nicknamed “the boy”, getting the girl by the end of the film. Usually, this would involve some sort of manly feat that would impress the girl and make her fall for him. By the end of his silent film career, before he started making “talkies”, Lloyd’s “Glasses” character was pretty well established. The Kid Brother was the second-to-last of these silent films and is seen as the quintessence of Lloyd’s film persona.

When you’re the weakest and youngest brother of two strong men, the need to establish your manliness can be quite the challenge. As luck would have it, a travelling medicine show rolls into Hickoryville and this kid brother, Harold Hickory (Harold Lloyd), is almost immediately taken with the daughter of the travelling salesman: Mary Powers (Jobyna Ralston). After the show accidentally burns down, Mary and her father are invited by Harold to stay with the Hickorys. At the same time, a large sum of money is stolen from the Hickorys, which was given to them by the town to repair part of it. Since Harold showed Mary such kindness, she suggests that he do the manly thing and investigate the theft. He does, and runs across some powerful crooks who are much stronger than he is. However, he uses his wits to get the money back and win the day.

Safety Last!Safety Last!
Year: 1923
Rating: Not Rated:
Length: 70 minutes / 1.17 hours

A challenge with slapstick comedy has always been the stunts. Harold Lloyd’s films were well noted for these stunts, many of which had terrific chase sequences. As such, safety was quite important for these films, as any wrong moves could result in Harold’s death. What’s almost ironic is that four years before Safety Last!, Lloyd was severely injured by an explosion caused by a prop of a bomb. This explosion managed to blow off a finger and thumb, which meant that all future stunts he performed would have to be done with this handicap. Even despite this handicap, Lloyd performed one of his most famous slapstick sequences, as noted for its daredevil-ish qualities. This sequence from Safety Last! is Lloyd’s best known and considered a hallmark in the era of silent comedies, still being referenced in popular culture today.

Harold Lloyd (as himself) moves from the country to the big city in the hopes that he can obtain a job that will earn him enough money to marry his girlfriend. After obtaining a job as a sales clerk in a department store, he starts sending his girlfriend gifts that he cannot afford, to give her the sense that he is actually successful. At the same time, his roommate, Bill (Bill Strother), gets in trouble with the police and manages to escape by climbing a building. Harold uses this newfound skill in his roommate to enter a contest for $1,000 to anyone who can increase business to the department store where he works. The police catch wind of this promotion and hope to catch Bill there. Because of this, Harold ends up climbing the building with the plan being to switch places with Bill mid-way. Unfortunately, the police chase Bill throughout the building, leaving Harold on his own, clinging to the stone façade.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 lovable Lloyd reels

Bacon #: 3 (For Heaven’s Sake / Charles Sullivan -> The Lady Gambles / Eda Reiss Merin -> Enormous Changes at the Last Minute / Kevin Bacon)

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2 responses to “#183. Harold Lloyd

  1. Pingback: #189. Buster Keaton | Cinema Connections

  2. Pingback: End of Act Four | Cinema Connections

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