In the second of Martin Hafer’s articles covering the stars of yesteryears black and white cinema, Harold Lloyd is the latest icon to be discussed.
Despite the title above, I never met the fine movie comedian Harold Lloyd—he died when I was just a young boy. However, soon after his death I had a wonderful opportunity to go to a local theater that was showing one of his great films, The Freshman—along with a pipe organ for accompaniment. And, I must say I was completely captivated. I loved the film and still consider it among my very favorite silent comedy classics. I think much of the reason is that The Freshman was NOT a slapstick film that relied on pratfalls for cheap laughs. Instead, it was what most comedies are—character-driven. This means that in order to get laughs, they had to remember to keep the integrity of the character and remember that he’s on a sort of journey through life—he’s NOT there to fall down, get kicked in the butt or get hit by a pie. Because of this, it’s a very gentle film—with both laughs and occasional sadness and, of course, triumph.
Unfortunately, aside from seeing The Freshman, finding most other Lloyd films was difficult until about a decade ago. Although Lloyd was, for a time, the most popular and successful film comic (surpassing even Chaplin and Keaton in the 1920s), he was pretty much forgotten. Harold made the decision to own his films and simply kept them locked away for decades. And, during that time his reputation sagged simply because less and less people had heard of him. Fortunately, the Lloyd family relented some time ago—releasing a HUGE mega-set of his full-length and short films. Additionally, they released the films on Turner Classic Movies—and his daughter even introduced the films along with Robert Osbourne. Finally, the films have become available.
Now I am assuming you are new to the films of Harold Lloyd so instead of having you aimlessly pick one, let me give you some advice. First, DON’T watch Mad Wednesday (also called The Sins of Harold Diddleboch). This is a film he made on a lark with Preston Sturgis long after he retired and it shows—and it’s nothing like his other films. The picture is rather unfunny and is an unnecessary follow-up to The Freshman. My advice is to watch any of my three favorites. Of course this would include The Freshman. But you also might want to try his insanely dangerous looking film, Safety Last. It has more laughs than usual for a Lloyd film and the stunts are just breathtaking. I also would recommend you see his very poetic looking and sweet film The Kid Brother. It’s not a hilarious film but is every bit as artistic as the best of Chaplin (such as his City Lights)—and the shot of him climbing the tree as his lady friend leaves is both technically difficult and beautiful. It’s probably now my favorite Lloyd film.
After you see a few of these silent films, your next assignment (wow, I’m sounding like a school teacher here) is to find a copy of Movie Crazy. Some folks have inaccurately said this talkie helped kill Lloyd’s career, but this is nonsense. It’s a great film—very charming and clever from start to finish and showed he could have continued making great films if he’d wanted. After this, the rest is up to you. However, I assume that once you’ve seen these films you’ll be hooked. Then of course, I could talk about Keaton, Chaplin and a few others….but that will have to wait for another day.
Article by Lead Entertainment Writer and Film Critic, Martin Hafer