Sam Taylor

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).


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).


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).


Guy X (2005, Saul Metzstein)

No studio picked up Guy X for a theatrical release. I kept seeing it in Jason Biggs’s filmography, kept waiting for it to show up in a theater and it never did. I assumed the worst from the lack of theatrical release–not to mention thinking Mena Suvari was in the film (it’s Natascha McElhone). After seeing it–actually, maybe halfway into it–I realized why there was no theatrical release. It’d be impossible to sell. Guy X is an epical story masquerading as a character study. Most of the epical narrative developments occur off screen. There are no gripping, tense moments. It’s not even subtle. It’s disinterested in the viewer’s expectation. I’m guessing it’s either a good adaptation of the novel or there’s a lot on the editing room floor.

The plot–Jason Biggs is mistakenly sent to a remote Army base in Greenland (instead of Hawaii) and encounters a strange set of characters, an alluring young woman (McElhone) and a nutty colonel (a great Jeremy Northam)–is kind of simple and kind of not. Guy X could easily be a M*A*S*H knock-off–it does feel a bit like the show anyway–but it’s not. It kind of reminded me of Antarctic Journal, a film no one involved with Guy X could have seen (unless they visited the future). Guy X has lots of scenes of isolation–Biggs is frequently alone in the film, with the supporting cast often less salient than the scenery–but that theme isn’t the prevailing one… but I don’t know what is then.

There is lots of comedy, sometimes easy, sometimes not. There’s a scene with the soldiers watching the same movie they’ve seen week after week, reciting the lines in unison and it’s funny, but there’s something else to it. There’s romance–the film wastes no time establishing the attraction between Biggs and McElhone and the actors do a fantastic job. But then there’s also the big story line, the important one, and the film handles it in a particular manner. It’s hard to explain but basically, the film never explains why Biggs does what he does and, more singularly, it never applauds him for his actions. There’s no payoff for the viewer.

Biggs, whose career has gotten depressing to the point I don’t even want to look on IMDb (but I am and ouch, why has Woody abandoned him), is great. It’s a non-comedic leading man role from him, something I kind of wasn’t expecting. He’s fantastic–especially given he’s got to make the character, a relative enigma, work with all sorts of mild revelations. McElhone is good too. Much of the film depends on their chemistry and they excel.

The supporting cast is all strong. Northam’s playing an American here, great job. Michael Ironside’s great. In the flashiest role, Sean Tucker does a fine job.

Saul Metzstein hasn’t directed much but he does a wonderful job. There’s the wide aspect of the always light Greenland landscape contrasted with the confined Army base–then even more confined when everything goes dark. At times, he reminded me of Lars Von Trier, though I don’t know why… something about the handling of space. François Dagenais’s cinematography and the music–by Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson and Charlie Mole–are also essential components.

As the film ended, I wondered if I was giving it too much credit or too little. I decided on too little. (It’s gotten to the point I can’t believe it when recent films are actually good).

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Saul Metzstein; screenplay by Steve Attridge and John Paul Chapple, based on a novel by John Griesemer; director of photography, François Dagenais; edited by Anne Sopel; music by Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson and Charlie Mole; production designer, Mike Gunn; produced by Mike Downey, Jason Piette and Sam Taylor; released by First Look International.

Starring Jason Biggs (Rudy), Natascha McElhone (Irene), Jeremy Northam (Woolwrap), Sean Tucker (Lavone), Hilmir Snær Guðnason (Petri), Harry Standjofski (Chaplain Brank), Rob deLeeuw (Slim), Donny Falsetti (Genteen), Jonathan Higgins (Vord) and Michael Ironside (Guy X).


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).


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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