Harold Lloyd

Now or Never (1921, Fred C. Newmeyer and Hal Roach)

Now or Never takes a long time to get to the basic comedic plot–Harold Lloyd is stuck taking care of a little kid on a train ride. The kid, played by Anna Mae Bilson, is absolutely adorable and a perfect foil for Lloyd. She’s his costar, not romantic interest Mildred Davis, which is somewhat unfortunate.

The film takes a kitchen sink approach, with Lloyd not just speeding in a car, but also hopping a train before getting onboard Never‘s principal train. About fifteen minutes could easily come off the front, since it doesn’t feature Lloyd and Bilson together.

Roach and Newmeyer’s direction, even of the pointless parts, is excellent and Lloyd’s good, which makes Never painless (if still overlong). The finale, when Lloyd’s on top of the train–an inevitability for train movies–is fantastic. The stunt work is mesmerizing.

It’s cute and very likable, but fairly shallow overall.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Hal Roach; written by Sam Taylor; titles by H.M. Walker; director of photography, Walter Lundin; edited by Thomas J. Crizer; produced by Roach; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Harold Lloyd (The Boy), Mildred Davis (The Girl) and Anna Mae Bilson (The Lonesome Little Child).


Get Out and Get Under (1920, Hal Roach)

Like a lot of silent shorts, Get Out and Get Under has three distinct phases. The first phase involves Harold Lloyd as a suitor for Mildred Davis. He’s got to race to stop her wedding. This phase sets a certain expectation for Get Out‘s pace; the rest of the short doesn’t live up to it.

Instead, the second phase is this incredibly laid back comedy of inconvenience. It’s not errors, just little things adding up. There are some good laughs in this section (the best laughs in the short), but it also establishes Lloyd’s character as a callous dimwit. Lloyd’s still likable because he’s Lloyd but there’s nothing to the character.

The third section is a lengthy chase involving Lloyd and some motorcycle cops. Again, it’s boring. The most compelling moment is when the cops think their shooting him for speeding.

Get Out isn’t bad, it’s just wholly uninspired filmmaking.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Hal Roach; titles by H.M. Walker; director of photography, Walter Lundin; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Harold Lloyd (The Boy), Mildred Davis (The Girl) and Fred McPherson (The Rival).


Among Those Present (1921, Fred C. Newmeyer)

Newmeyer takes Harold Lloyd to a country house in Among Those Present and sets him loose in front of a bunch of snobs. Lloyd plays a variation of his regular character, but this time with additions. For much of the short, he’s posing as a British lord, which showcases Lloyd’s acting ability.

The short has already established him as the likable Lloyd standard, so seeing him be an English snob is a lot of fun. The persona melts, of course, when he meets Mildred Davis. But Lloyd’s coat check boy proves to be quite an acceptable suitor, regardless of society status.

Among Those Present has three distinct periods, with the second being Lloyd’s impersonating in society and the final one being him on a fox hunt. Things do not go well on the hunt.

The short has many good laughs, but the plot structure and acting really set it apart.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer; written by Hal Roach and Sam Taylor; director of photography, Walter Lundin; edited by Thomas J. Crizer; produced by Roach; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Harold Lloyd (O’Reilly, The Boy), Mildred Davis (Miss O’Brien, The Girl), James T. Kelley (Mr. O’Brien, the Father), Aggie Herring (Mrs. O’Brien, the Mother), Vera White (Society Pilot) and William Gillespie (Hard-Boiled Party).


Number, Please? (1920, Fred C. Newmeyer and Hal Roach)

Number, Please? is split into three very different parts. First, Harold Lloyd is trying to win back his ex-girlfriend (Mildred Davis), who’s just an awful human being, from her current beau, played by Roy Brooks. The men have to find her missing dog. This section isn’t much fun as there are constant reminders Davis isn’t exactly a prize.

Second is a lengthy sequence where Lloyd tries to make a telephone call. While it’s interesting as evidence of how phones worked in 1920, the sequence relies entirely on people being mean or lazy. The jokes are genial, but uninspired.

The third section, however, is wonderful slapstick. Lloyd is running around the Venice Beach amusement park trying to get rid of a hot purse. It’s great use of locations, but also fantastic physical gags.

Lloyd’s great throughout and directors Roach and Newmeyer have some startling good moments.

Overall, Number is successful.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Hal Roach; titles by H.M. Walker; director of photography, Walter Lundin; produced by Roach; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Harold Lloyd (The Boy), Mildred Davis (The Girl) and Roy Brooks (The Rival).


I Do (1921, Hal Roach)

Where to start with I Do….

There are two big places and one little one. The little one is just suburban paranoia in the twenties, with newlyweds Harold Lloyd and Mildred Davis terrified over being robbed. It leads to hijinks. But this subplot is only the last seven minutes, tacked on to the rest.

The rest involves Lloyd passively agreeing to babysit his wife’s brother’s kids. I Do plays as a warning against both marriage and children. Jack Morgan plays the older ward and he’s a destructive little psychopath. Davis, unfortunately, is permissive. A great ending joke would have been her smacking the little monster after she chastised Lloyd for doing it at the beginning.

Sadly, I Do does not have a great ending (or even a good third act).

Worse, the problem’s Lloyd. He’s a clumsy fop–his character ends there.

I Do‘s unambitious and seemingly disinterested with itself.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Hal Roach; written by Roach and Sam Taylor; edited by Charles Bilkey and Harold McCord; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Harold Lloyd (The Boy), Mildred Davis (The Girl), Noah Young (The Agitation), Jack Morgan (The Disturbance) and Jack Edwards (The Annoyance).


Never Weaken (1921, Fred C. Newmeyer)

Never Weaken combines two of Lloyd’s favorite features (at least from his shorts of the era)… skyscraper derring do and failed suicide attempts. While the former is definitely thrilling, the latter is unpleasant and, in terms of narrative, rather lazy writing.

The short starts strong, with Lloyd out to drum up business so his girlfriend (Mildred Davis) can keep her job. She’s a doctor’s assistant and Lloyd is constantly devising scams to create new patients. This adventure takes up about half Weaken‘s running time and features a great “villain” in Charles Stevenson’s bewildered police officer.

Then Lloyd discovers Davis embracing another man and the suicide kick gets started. As usual, the misfires are funny, but in questionable taste and utterly pointless. Weaken‘s got a fourth the plot it should.

The skyscraper scenes are amazing, but it’d have been better if Lloyd had just done an urban acrobat picture.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer; written by Hal Roach and Sam Taylor; titles by H.M. Walker; director of photography, Walter Lundin; edited by Thomas J. Crizer; produced by Roach; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Harold Lloyd (The Boy), Mildred Davis (The Girl), Roy Brooks (The Other Man), Mark Jones (The Acrobat) and Charles Stevenson (The Police Force).


High and Dizzy (1920, Hal Roach)

Sometimes low concept is the best concept. High and Dizzy concerns a drunken Harold Lloyd and his adventures about town with his sidekick, played by Roy Brooks. Lloyd and Brooks get into all sorts of trouble, some predictable, some not, and it just makes for a pleasant comedy.

It helps, of course, Lloyd can be acrobatic–whether he’s scaling a building or just hopping over a desk–because it maintains the action quotient.

Dizzy‘s not just about a drunken Lloyd, however. It’s about a failing new doctor drunken Lloyd who’s in love with a patient. The short’s structure is, though contrived, rather nice. At the beginning, a sober Lloyd falls for Mildred Davis. He falls so hard, he doesn’t even get her diagnosis, which comes back as a plot point later.

Roach, as usual, competently directs without being interesting.

The finale’s a little forced, but Dizzy‘s already succeeded.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Hal Roach; written by Frank Terry; director of photography, Walter Lundin; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Harold Lloyd (The Boy), Roy Brooks (His Friend), Mildred Davis (The Girl) and Wallace Howe (Her Father).


Haunted Spooks (1920, Hal Roach and Alfred J. Goulding)

Haunted Spooks is a disjointed experience. It starts well enough, with unmarried Mildred Davis inheriting a mansion… so long as she’s married. Her lawyer promises to get her a husband, which the title cards have already revealed will be Harold Lloyd.

Then Haunted takes its time bringing the two together. Instead, Lloyd’s current love interest picks another man–after a lengthy sequence where he’s trying to beat still another suitor to ask her father’s blessing–and Lloyd decides to kill himself. Then there are multiple suicide attempts; they’re often funny, but Haunted‘s not exactly an upper.

Finally Davis and Lloyd get together and head to the mansion. Except her evil uncle has convinced the servants the mansion is haunted. They panic. Their panic panics Davis and Lloyd.

The haunting stuff flops and the opening’s only marginally better.

Lloyd’s excellent, but Haunted‘s most compelling feature is the beautifully illustrated title cards.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Hal Roach and Alfred J. Goulding; titles by H.M. Walker; director of photography, Walter Lundin; produced by Roach; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Harold Lloyd (The Boy), Mildred Davis (The Girl), Wallace Howe (The Uncle), William Gillespie (The Lawyer), Marie Mosquini (The Other Girl) and Blue Washington (The Butler).


An Eastern Westerner (1920, Hal Roach)

In An Eastern Westerner, Harold Lloyd plays a Manhattan playboy whose antics land him out West. Not the antics where he destroys a dance hall in the opening sequence, which nicely establishes the character, but the ones where his parents catch him.

Westerner‘s opening sequence, where Lloyd is willing to fight bigger men (or at least get back at them), does a lot of work. Later, when he’s in a saloon and surrounded by dangerous men, his behavior makes more sense.

The story–Lloyd doesn’t have any drama inherent to himself–involves a rich, tough louse (played by Noah Young), who’s after a girl, played by Mildred Davis. In the interest of narrative expediency, Lloyd falls for Davis the moment he meets her. Most of the rest of Westerner is fall-out from his affections.

Lloyd’s likability and antics are Westerner‘s whole show. He’s more than up to the task.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Hal Roach; written by Frank Terry; titles by H.M. Walker; director of photography, Walter Lundin; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Harold Lloyd (The Boy), Mildred Davis (The Girl) and Noah Young (Tiger Lip Tompkins).


The Freshman (1925, Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor)

The Freshman has one of the most peculiar approaches to storytelling I’ve seen. It has very little establishing exposition–a few lines on a title card about maybe four of those exposition title cards throughout–and its scenes are gag-centered and the film is these gags strung together. Maybe the approach isn’t so peculiar (arguably, it’s the same approach used in say… The Waterboy), but The Freshman is successful and other films with such strings are not.

Most of the success is due to Harold Lloyd. He plays an incoming freshman desperate to be popular, but he’s full of geeky ideas of college he’s picked up from a movie. The Freshman is so lean, it doesn’t even bother giving Lloyd fellow geeks to hang around (he’s the star after all), just the antagonists, who vary in terms of hostility. There’s only one real bully in the film, actually, but it’s not too concentrated on Lloyd making friends with specific folks, just in general. Also in The Freshman is the touching love story between Lloyd and a town girl, played by Jobyna Ralston. There’s little tension to the love story–by the hour-mark, the two are a couple–and it gives Lloyd his confidant, as well a greater goal.

The gags vary in terms of athleticism. There’s a football game and a football practice and I kept remembering M*A*S*H throughout those scenes, but otherwise Lloyd’s not doing much in the way of acrobatics. The comedy’s not particularly physical and it made me wonder why if the film even qualifies as “slapstick.” It’s a real achievement how affecting the film ends up being, given how hard-pressed I am to think of any characters besides Lloyd and Ralston’s who leave any impression. Besides the two of them, I think the football coach gets the most screen time, though he’s not really a character….

Lloyd’s films are finally readily available (I remember, when I worked at a video store in the late 1990s, they were not, nor was there any hope for them to be) and The Freshman is a good entry point to silent films for newcomers. The Freshman moves incredibly fast–since it is that gag string–and it’s constantly entertaining. It does demand close attention, as Lloyd’s a busy comedian, but in structure, it has more in common with modern comedies than other silent comedies do.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor; written by Taylor, John Grey, Tim Whelan and Ted Wilde; director of photography, Walter Lundin; edited by Allen McNeil; produced by Harold Lloyd; released by Pathé.

Starring Harold Lloyd (The Freshman), Jobyna Ralston (Peggy), Brooks Benedict (The College Cad), James Anderson (The College Hero), Hazel Kenner (The College Belle), Joseph Harrington (The College Tailor) and Pat Harmon (The Football Coach).


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