Mildred Davis

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).


Safety Last! (1923, Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor)

Film used to be a visual medium. It’s an audio/visual now and getting more and more audio–Dolby Digital and DTS has convinced folks they need five speakers plus the discreet (while Woody Allen still shoots mono). Film has become stage-less theater (without the pretension of theater), but it wasn’t always that way….

I’ve never seen a Harold Lloyd film before and my silent comedies are limited mostly to Buster. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a silent Chaplin, just a couple talkies he didn’t talk in. Keaton cannot be surpassed in his quality or his influence, but Safety Last! is just a lot of fun. Silent films use different storytelling techniques than sound pictures do (regardless of the awkward-“intended to be silent” talkies of the late 1920s, the change was immediate–their awkwardness was something else entirely). Without telling the audience the character sold the phonograph, without intimating it with dialogue, the film is left to suggest to us that the phonograph has been sold. Sure, there’s the full explanation with a pawn stub, but that’s either for the stragglers or, more likely, to introduce the concept of money into the scene. Money’s one of those concepts that needs to be enumerated.

Silent comedy and silent drama are also completely different (silent comedy quickly establishes its characters while drama can just go on and on, making a comedy a safer bet for someone just seeing a silent film–not everything that survived is necessarily good). Safety Last! is able to introduce a major character in the last act. It’s just a drunk, but he’s in it the act more than the romantic interest. We rarely see that–I’ve got Sea of Love on the brain since I just rented it and really want to watch it and I remember reading Price’s screenplay collection and he said he wanted to introduce the murderer in the last act and the love interest in the middle of the film and the studio gave him a really funny look. But, even in comedies of the 1930s and 1940s, not even mentioning dramas, big characters did not appear in late in the film. Characters whose presence is felt throughout the film (ranging from The Senator Was Indiscreet to Seven) is a different situation, of course.

As for Lloyd, he’s impossible to dislike, a perfect Everyman. His physical comedy is not as athletic as Keaton’s, of course (is that possible?), but it’s superb. The film ends with his attempt to scale a 12-story building and it’s the first time I got worried about someone surviving since I saw Superman as a kid.

Lloyd is well-known to film buffs–customers at the video store I worked at, back when there were smart people seeing movies (the late 1990s), used to ask about his films. Someone had seen it on TV or something, when he or she was a kid, and now he or she has kids… Lloyd’s the most accessible silent comedian and it’s great that “someday soon” his films will be available on DVD. Until then, check your TCM listings, as they frequently have mini-Lloyd marathons.

….oh, that’s a little scary. Movielens had my star rating dead-on….

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor; written by Hal Roach, Taylor and Tim Whelan, 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), Bill Strother (The Pal), Noah Young (The Law) and Westcott Clarke (The Floorwalker).


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