Silent DVD Archive
Slapstick Symposium Too
The second wave of Kino's Slapstick Symposium is scheduled for release on September 13th, and we have an advanced look at all of the discs this time around. They are releasing another three collections this time. First, a series of Oliver Hardy films before he teamed up with Stan Laurel and became a super-star, then a two disc Harold Lloyd collection including some of his greatest shorts: High and Dizzy and Never Weaken. The third disc is arguably the best: another helping of Charley Chase comedy classics.
There are a few new Silent DVDs that have been announce too, some of which I'm really looking forward to. Image is planning on releasing Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film on October 18th. This seven (!) disc set will contain 150 films produced between 1894 and the early 1940's. The retial price is $99.99, and it is bound to contain some very interesting films.
The following week (October 25th) they have scheduled a pair of Cecil B. DeMille films on a single disc. The disc will include Don’t Change Your Husband (1919) starring Gloria Swanson and The Golden Chance (1916) and will retail for $24.99.
Mackinac Media has announced a two-disc set of Buster Keaton material that will be released on October 18th. Buster Keaton: Industrial Strength will include his sound feature Parlor, Bedroom and Bath, a newly restored version of The Playhouse, as well as a slew of commercials and television appreances that Buster made.
October 18th is looking like it will be a busy day for silent movie
fans. That same day a 2003 documentary on one of the greatest silent
clowns is also released. Charlie Chaplin: The Forgotten Years
looks at the life of this master filmmaker after he'd faded from the spotlight.
Kino's first wave of silent comedy shorts, The Slapstick Symposium, was met with such sucsess that they've released a second set of discs under the banner The Slapstick Symposium Too (sic). This wave has some great comedy and includes many rare films. Like the first set, there are three comedians featured in this release: Oliver Hardy, Charley Chase, and Harold Lloyd. All of them have some great shorts, though the Hardy disc isn't as funny as the other ones. The audio and video quality for all three sets is excellent, with some of these films looking brand new. I've reviewed each disc individually and then put comments on the A/V qualtity here at the end.
Half of arguably the greatest comedy team of all time Oliver Hardy (Babe to his friends) already had a long and productive film career before he ever teamed up with his physical opposite, Stan Laurel. Traveling to Jacksonville, Florida in 1913, then the center of much film activity, Babe joined the Lubin company where he found work as an actor. Between that time and 1927 when he would be partnered with Stan Laurel for the series that would make him famous, Hardy appeared in literally hundreds of shorts and features. Often cast as the heavy, he worked with such now forgotten stars as Larry Semon, Bobby Ray, and Billy West. (West was a Chaplin impersonator who was once publically praised by Chaplin himself.) Kino, in association with the French outfit Lobster Films, has released a nearly three hour collection of the actor's pre- Laurel and Hardy shorts: The Oliver Hardy Collection.
As with most collections of shorts, this one is a mixed bag. Hardy only has a staring role in one (Crazy to Act) and some of the comedians he was partnered with weren't all that great. While Stick Around is a very funny short that is reminiscent of the work he would later do with Stan Laurel, most of the other films don't have the charm and character that the Laurel and Hardy shorts possess. These films are interesting though, as they show a progression of Babe's skill as an actor. In the earliest films he overacts to a large extent, waving his arms and exaggerating gestures to make a point. By the late 1920's though he had refined his method and was more subtle and realistic, a style that he would continue to continue to refine and hone in his Laurel and Hardy shorts.
The films included on this disc are:
The Show (1925): This is a Larry
Semon short, with Oliver playing a smaller role as the heavy. Semon
was an incredibly popular comedian at the time this short was made.
Know for elaborate stunts and frantic chase scenes, this short is a good
example of his work. The film can really be broken into two parts,
with the first having little to do with the second.
The first section of the movie involves the trials and tribulations of putting on a vaudeville show. A crass group in the balcony drops butter (?) and jam on the head of a well-to-do patron in the box below, a magician's chicken attacks a drunk member of the audience (played by Semon) and the prop boy (also played by Semon) causes all sorts of trouble with the giant fan and a container of ashes.
This section of the film was fairly uninspired. There wasn't much setups to the gags. In one early scene Larry starts eating an actresses make-up kit. There wasn't any real reason for him to start eating it, so it wasn't really funny. Later a chicken drinks from an open container of nitroglycerine. What was that doing back stage and why was it opened? I know these seem like nit-picky critiques, but a good comedy takes the time to explain why everything happens.
The second part of the short was much better. The stage manager, Oliver Hardy, steals some jewels from the star of the show at gunpoint. (Why he decided to do this is never explained.) Prop boy Larry bumps into the crook as he's leaving the dressing room and the chase is on. Though this chase scene involves a group of police who are helping Larry capture the thief, it is much better than a Keystone Cops vehicle. The stunts are top rate, involving Larry (and his stunt men) riding dangerously close to a fast moving train and having men running on the top of the train drop flat just inches in front of a tunnel that the train is speeding into.
As for Oliver Hardy's part in this, it was very small. He hams it up as the bad guy in a ridiculous false moustache and eyebrows in a couple of scenes but doesn't have much of a chance to act. This is really a Semon vehicle, and you'd be hard pressed to see any spark of talent in Hardy's brief performance.
Stick Around (1925): This Bobby
Ray short is very interesting because Ray and Hardy play similar characters
to the ones that Laurel and Hardy would soon make famous. Babe Hardy
is an overbearing boss, who's not too smart, and Ray plays his hapless
employee. The two get a job to wall paper a sanitarium in "something
artistic." On the way to the job site, the pair get into an accident
with someone putting up a billboard ad for a circus. When they leave
(in a hurry) they accidently take the circus ads instead of their wallpaper.
Of course they have a hard time putting the paper up, and when the job
is finally completed, they have "A room that would make the Ringling Bros.
kiss Barnum and Bailey." The client is none too happy.
Watching this film it really strikes the viewer how similar this was to an early Laurel and Hardy short. Though Bobby Ray doesn't resemble Stan Laurel much, he is Hardy's physical opposite, as Stan was, and has an innocent attitude through most of the film. Oliver spends a lot of the picture bossing Ray around, while doing little work himself. One scene that could have come straight from a L&H picture was where Hardy and Ray were trudging to the sanitarium. Ray gets stuck pulling a heavy cart loaded with supplies up a very steep hill. He huffs and puffs and finally reaches the top, at which point Hardy yells "We climbed the wrong hill."
Though it is similar in tone an content to the Laurel and Hardy comedies, Oliver was still in his tough-guy mode and overacted a bit. Apparently it would take a comedian of Stan Laurel's caliber to realize that less is more and tone down his reactions.
Along Came Auntie (1926) (also available on The Lost Films of Laurel and Hardy Volume 3): This short was co-written by Stan Laurel, though he doesn't appear in it. This short was intended as a showcase for comedian Glen Tyron. Producer Hal Roach was hoping that Tyron would be a suitable replacement for Harold Lloyd as the studio's star comedian. (Lloyd having recently left for greener pastures.) After staring in the feature film The Battling Orioles (1924) Tyron appeared in a series of two-reel comedies, but he never made the big time. It is easy to see why in this short. Tyron is lifeless and has no screen presence. He is easily upstaged by Oliver Hardy who appears, once again, in a wild fake moustache. Based on this rilm, it's hard to see what Roach saw in Tyron.
As for the film itself, it is one of the lesser efforts on this disc. The plot is fairly standard for a silent short: a woman will inherit a sizable fortune from her aged aunt, if she can convince her relative that she's still married to her first husband. As luck would have it hubby #1 (Oliver Hardy) has just taken a room in her house, while husband #2 (Glen Tyron) has just returned from a vacation. Though there are several misunderstandings and mixups, the film just doesn't have much punch to it. Tyron's character doesn't seem to have a personality, and it seems that whenever the writers were stuck, they just threw in another fight scene. It really has the feel of a Keystone comedy.
The version presented here looks better than the copy on The Lost Films of Laurel and Hardy Volume 3. It has more contrast and detail, while presenting a bit more image on the right side of the frame.
45 Minutes From Hollywood (1926) (also included in The Lost Films of Laurel and Hardy Volume 6): Another Glen Tyron film, he doesn't seem to have much comedic talent in this one either. Going to Hollywood to pay off his parents' mortgage, Glen Tyron ends up getting mixed up in a bank robbery and ends up being chased by a hotel detective and the police, all while he's wearing a dress.
Overall a rather tepid film, it is historically important because it is the first film that Laurel and Hardy appeared together in at the Roach lot. Unfortunately, they don't even appear in a scene together. (They had first acted together in A Lucky Dog, an independent film made in 1921, in which they do share scenes.) A dull Glen Tyron film, the gags weren't that funny, and if it wasn't for the coincidence that the two future stars both have roles, this film wouldn't be as well remembered as it is.
This film is incredibly clear and crisp, and looks a bit brighter than the high quality print used in The Lost Films of Laurel and Hardy.
Crazy to Act (1927): Oliver made this film for Mack Sennett to finish out his contract. Hardy plays a rich young man who's infatuated with an attractive girl, Ethyl, who wants to be an actress. Hardy offers to marry the lady and finance her films, but she won't marry him until she's a star. They film her first movie, but the young ingenue in more interested in her leading man that she is in her fiancee.
This film was average at best. It was really padded, with the first section of the short showing the filming of Ethyl's movie, and the second part showing the screening of the film. Viewers saw the same action twice, and both of these sections focused on Hardy's reaction to Ethyl kissing her leading man. They needed to put more gags in this, as they repeat the few that are in it. Some of the title cards were amusing, especially when Oliver promised his betrothed that he'd make her the next Pola Pickford. It's a sad comment on a slapstick movie when the intertitles are the most memorable thing about it. Hardy did do a very good job in this movie though. By this time he has stopped overacting to a large extent and was much more comfortable getting laughs with more subtle actions.
The Sawmill (1921): A Larry Semon film that casts Oliver Hardy as the foreman of a sawmill. Playing the heavy once again, Hardy wears fake eyebrows and a fake bushy moustache. He really hams it up, jumping up and down wen he gets mad and cackling wildly after he whips the men working under him. Semon plays a "the dumb-bell" who likes the boss' daughter, the same girl that the foreman is sweet on.
Semon was notorious for spending huge amounts on his shorts and this is a good example of how his budgets would skyrocket. He built a full scale saw mill for this production and ends up destroying most of it all by the end of the movie. There were a few good gags in this film, but the highlight was really the stunts. The jumps and falls were very impressive and great entertainment.
Should Sailors Marry (1925) (also included in The Lost Films of Laurel and Hardy Volume Four): Australian comedian Clyde Cook stars in this Roach picture, the second one he made. His first film had been shelved and only released after extensive retakes. This was his second movie, and the first test screenings were horrible. After director/writer Jess Robbins washed his hands of the picture, James Parrot reshot some scenes and the result is a pretty funny short.
A scheming woman by the name of Verbena Singlefoot (Fay Holderness)
owes her ex-husband (played by Noah Young, the tough guy in several Harold
Lloyd films) alimony. She hits on a plan to marry a sailor who's
getting out of the navy; Cyril D'Armond (Clyde Cook.) For reasons
that are never explained, she thinks that he's loaded, when in reality
he's lost all of his back pay in a shell game. After the marriage
and the discovery that he's broke, Verbena and her ex-husband come up with
another plan: They insure him for a lot of money, get him a dangerous job,
and then help him have an accident.
Hardy only has a very small role in this as the insurance doctor who checks Clyde out. Even so it is an amusing film. Clyde's hapless look works well and his slight frame looks even more meager next to Noah Young. It is easy to see the effect that Harold Lloyd had on this picture. There is a 'thrill sequence' that could have come straight out of a Lloyd picture, with Cook hanging off girders and having hot rivets dropped on him from above. This section was funny and well done, but it also illustrates how proficient Lloyd was at that type of comedy. This film really pales when compared to Lloyd's action work. Even so, Should Sailors Marry is a fun film.
Both this disc and The Lost Films of Laurel and Hardy Volume Four have excellent prints though the Lobster restoration looks a little better.
Hop to It (1925): The collection ends with another Bobby Ray short. In this film both Ray and Hardy are bellhops in a hotel. Hardy bosses the not-too-bright Ray around and manages to get both of them in trouble. Add a bag of missing money and a pretty lady, and you've got trouble. This was a fairly straight forward slapstick short that was fun to watch. A running gag of Ray getting room nine and six mixed up because of an inverted number on a door kept getting more and more funny as it went on. There was a cameo by Frank "Fatty" Alexander who was part of the Ton of Fun Trio. He did an excellent job as a hotel guest who just wanted to get some sleep and is constantly interrupted.
Unlike Stick Around, Hardy plays an unsavory character who not only bosses Ray around but is cruel to him and tries to kill him! Quite a change from their earlier pairing.
There are no extras on this disc.
This was a fun disc. Not all of the shorts were great, but there were several very funny films included. Hop to It, Stick Around, and The Sawmill were all very funny. Though Hardy rarely started in his movies before teaming up with Stan Laurel, this set does give some good examples of the types of films he made in those pre-fame days. These films let the viewer discover how he matured as an actor, and how he made his roles more humorous the less he 'acted'. The restored prints that were used for this set were all very good. Avid Laurel and Hardy fans will want to get this for sure, but it is still Recommended for more casual slapstick fans.
There were many comedians who made shorts back in the silent era, but only three of them are well known today: Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. They weren't the only talented comics though. Harry Langdon had a unique style that worked very well, and others such as Snub Pollard, Lupino Lane, and Larry Semon were all incredibly popular in their day. One 'forgotten comic' who really stood above his peers though was Charley Chase. Born Charles Parrott (and brother of director James Parrott) Chase had a wonderful comic mind. Not only was he a popular comedy star, but he was an accomplished director, writer, and gag man. His shorts are inventive and funny, and unlike many silent shorts, they have an internal logic to them that is the hallmark of superior slapstick. Kino, in association with Lobster Films has released second disc of restored Chase films: The Charley Chase Collection Volume 2.
As with the first volume of Charley Chase shorts, (read Stuart Galbraith IV's review of that disc here) this DVD is shorter than the other Slapstick Symposium series discs, which is ashame. Containing only five of Chase's two reel shorts (as opposed to the eight on Oliver Hardy's disc) what this volume lacks in quantity it makes up by quality. These are very funny shorts, ones that will amuse both young and old alike.
It is really a tragedy that Charley Chase is not more well known. His shorts are certainly funny, featuring absurd comedy, almost surreal at times, and a lot of fast paced action. He stared in some of the most consistently funny shorts from the silent era, and he was certainly talented enough to be well remembered. The main reason that he is largely forgotten today is that he never made the jump to feature films. He made one long subject that was released by Universal, the talking film Modern Love (1929) but it did not do well and he returned to two reel films.
The films included on this volume are:
His Wooden Wedding (1925): Charley
Chase is at the church about to be married when the best man, a jilted
suitor, writes him an anonymous note stating that his wife has a wooden
leg. Breaking off the marriage when he notices his fiancee limping
due to a sprained ankle, Chase gets drunk. Meanwhile the best man
steals the engagement ring, which has a very valuable diamond, and hides
it in the lining of his hat, the only problem is that he's accidently selected
Charley's hat. When the drunk Chase comes down and decides to go
off to a Pacific island and become a beachcomber and takes his hat with
him, the best man has no choice but to follow him.
A very funny film, this short hangs together quite well. Everything has a reason for happening, and the action seems natural and not shoe-horned in. The scene where Charley has slipped the diamond down the back of a woman's dress and is trying to get her to dance vigorously so that the object will fall out was hilarious. A great comedy to start the set off with.
Isn't Life Terrible (1925): Another
hilarious comedy, this one features Oliver Hardy as Charley's lazy brother-in-law
who gets sick every time that work is mentioned. Charley
wants to take his family on a vacation, but can't afford one. When
he finds out that a pen company is giving away an ocean voyage to the person
who can sell the most fountain pens in three months, Charley set out to
win the trip. When he does though, it isn't was he was hoping for.
Innocent Husbands (1925): Another very entertaining film with an absurd plot that nevertheless hangs together very well. Although Charley has always been faithful, his wife Mame is constantly suspecting that he's fooling around. When a woman from the party across the hall passes out in Charley's bed, he has a tough time concealing the fact from his wife. There were several gags that worked well, including the scene where Charley has to pick up a lady for a friend. He's instructed to wait outside of her building and whistle three times and she'll throw down the key. When he arrived he dutifully whistles, only to be pelted by dozens of keys. Another creative and funny short.
Dog Shy (1926): One of Chase's best
shorts. This Leo McCarey directed farce is filled with comedy from
start to finish. Charley Chase is deathly afraid of dogs, and as
he's hiding from one in a phone booth he starts talking to a girl who happens
to be on the line. She is bemoaning the fact that her parents are
forcing her to marry a nobleman whom they've never met. Going to
her house, he's mistaken for the new butler. Unfortunately there
is a party that night with 20 women in attendance, and Charley doesn't
know which one is the girl he was talking to on the phone.
There were many great scenes in this film. When Charley the butler is instructed to wash "The Duke" the family dog, he assumes they are referring to the nobleman who is visiting. The fact that the lady of the house has told Charley that "if he's hard to handle you must be firm. Use force..." just adds to the comedy. The ending worked quite well too, with several things coming all together to end this outrageously funny short on a high note.
Bromo and Juliet (1926): Another film directed by Leo McCarey (the man responsible for teaming Stan Laurel with Oliver Hardy) this is a wonderful farce. Chase's girlfriend will only marry him if he agrees to play Romeo opposite her in a charity play she's putting on. Charley agrees, but the day of the play he has to revive his future father-in-law who gets smashed on some home-made Scotch, avoid a cabbie who wants his fare (played by Oliver Hardy), and stay out of the grasp of a prohibition era cop. All while inebriated himself. He shows up late to the theater but goes on and give a performance the Bard never imagined. Another laugh filled short.
This disc features a couple of extras. The first is an eight minute Charley Chase Biography, which is narrated by Serge Bromberg. The narration is in English, but Bromberg has a very strong French accent. You can understand everything that he says, but you have to concentrate a bit more than usual. Unfortunately this section isn't subtitled. The biography itself consists of clips from Chase's films with narration. I found this to be very sterile, more of a listing of dates and events than a real look at the actor. It covers the major events in Chase's life but doesn't provide many details.
There is also a one reel comedy, Shine 'Em Up (1922), staring Chase's brother actor/director James Parrott who is credited here as Paul Parrott. James looks a lot like his brother. This is an amusing short where James plays a shoe shine man who tries to drum up some business.
It is a tragedy that Charley Chase is now only known by a handful of silent film aficionados. He was a great comic talent, as all of the films on this disc testify. His energetic comedies held together very well, with an internal logic that is a little odd but really added to the humor of the films. Every film in this collection is very funny and enjoyable. The picture quality, like the other Slapstick Symposium discs, is excellent. Highly Recommended.
One of the greatest silent comedians was Harold Lloyd. He's known for the death defying stunts that provoked laughter in generations of film goers, but also for his 'glasses' character, an optimistic and enthusiastic young man who tackles live with vim. He didn't start out with this character though, it took him many years to develop the persona that would make him famous. He started out working for Hal Roach with a character named Willie Work, a tramp and obvious attempt to cash in on Chaplin's success. These films did very poorly; at one point Lloyd said that none of them were ever sold and distributed, and by 1928 no prints were still in existence.
After a brief stint with Mack Sennett at Keystone, Lloyd returned to Roach and together they created another Chaplin impersonation, Lonesome Luke. These were immensely popular and the distributor, Pathé, couldn't get enough of them. Lloyd didn't like the character however, since he wasn't original. After mulling some ideas over, he came up with what he called the "Glasses Character" a young ordinary looking man with glasses who uses his ingenuity to get out of scrapes. Roach and Pathé didn't want to make films with this new character since the Lonesome Luke films were doing so well, but Lloyd finally convinced Roach to give the character a shot, and by 1918, Lloyd had quit the Luke comedies and was only playing his glasses character.
Kino, in association with Lobster Films, has released a second set of Harold Lloyd shorts. (Be sure to read Stuart Galbraith IV's great review of the first volume here.) This time they've included 10 one-, two-, and three-reel comedies on a two DVD set. These include some of his best work including his first two three-reel films, Now or Never and Among Those Present and some of his classic thrill pictures including High and Dizzy and Never Weaken. This is an excellent set that has some outrageously funny shorts.
The films in this collection are:
Two Gun Gussie (1918): This one
reeler has Harold playing piano in a bar in the old west. The Sheriff
receives a letter from a neighboring lawman warning him about a tough characters
who's headed his way. As luck would have it, the villain is in the
bar and switches his picture, enclosed with the letter, with that of innocent
Harold. The Sheriff and the rest of the town's people now think the
mild mannered piano player is a tough hombre and quake at hsi every move,
something that Harold plays up for all it's worth.
This was a funny comedy that is severely hampered by the fact that many short sections, most lasting less than a second or two, are missing. This not only ruins the pacing and flow of the story, but you can't tell what some of the gags are, part of it is missing. You can still get a feel for what the film must have looked like, and I'm glad that they included it, but it isn't nearly as funny as it should be.
The City Slicker (1918): Another
one-reeler, and this one is complete. Harold travels from the city
to a rural hotel that has advertised for position. They want someone
to modernize the hotel for them, and Harold gets the job. He soon
installs many fancy push-button gadgets that are supposed to make the hotel
appeal to refined folk: beds the slide into walls and bathtubs that hide
in fireplaces. (I noticed he didn't install central heat.)
This type of story has been done many times, Keaton would do something
similar in The Electric House (1922), but it works well with Lloyd
in the lead. There are some amusing gags, and while this is a fun
short, it isn't a standout.
The Non-Stop Kid (1918): All the bachelors in town are after Miss Wiggle (Bebe Daniels), but her father wants her to marry Prof. M. T. Noodle. Harold tries to win the beauty by impersonating the learned gentleman, with amusing results. This is an interesting early "glasses character" comedy. Only a year earlier, Lloyd was still making Lonesome Luck comedies. In this film he's come up with a lot of the traits that his character would become famous for, but not all of them. Harold is resourceful and optimistic, but he still isn't very far from his slapstick roots. There's a mean streak when he laughs at the other suitors being kicked out by Mr. Wiggle, and when he arranges to have a police officer hit Prof. Noodle over the head knocking him out. He's very close to the character that would make him a superstar though.
Ring up the Curtain (1919): Harold is the stage hand at a theater who falls in love with the leading lady of a traveling troupe. There are all sorts of mishaps backstage and an extended sequence with a snake that scares everyone witless. This is a minor Lloyd comedy. After coming so close to his glasses character in The Non-Stop Kid, here he reverts to average (at best) slapstick. His character isn't trying to better himself or rise up the ladder, he seems content sweeping up the stage. Even worse than that, this film doesn't have any of internal logic. Things just sort of happen, not for any specific reason, just because they might be funny. They usually aren't. The ending gag in particular was very against character and not very funny.
Captain Kidd's Kid (1920): The boy
(Harold Lloyd) has lived life on the straight and narrow until the night
of his bachelor party when he cuts loose; the one and only time in his
life. As the movie opens, Harold's butler (Snub Pollard) is trying
to wake him after the big shin-dig. The phone rings, and it's Harold's
intended (Bebe Daniels): her mother heard about the huge party and the
wedding is now off. The mother and daughter are going off to the
Canary Islands for a vacation, and Harold pursues them. Booking a
trip on an ocean liner, Harold manages to get thrown off the ship, followed
by his faithful butler, and then captured by a ship load of female pirates!
This was Lloyd's second two-reel film and is a very enjoyable film. He really does well in the longer format. It starts off slowly with some fairly standard types of gags, but it picks up after the boy goes to sea. I loved the scene where Harold and Snub are in the ocean, hanging to a life preserver and they see the pirate ship coming. They hurriedly turn around and swin the other way trying to escape when one of the women stands up in the row boat and says "I think you are really mean to run away." When they find out they are being chased by attractive women, they change their minds quickly and swim back.
This was Bebe Daniels' last film with Lloyd. His long time leading lady and off screen sweetheart was moving up to feature films. Though they had talked of marriage, Harold wanted to concentrate on his career, and so they broke off their relationship, though they stayed friends for life.
From Hand to Mouth (1920): A girl (Mildred Davis) will inherit a fortune if she can prove her identity by midnight, if not, her half-brother gets the money. Her brother has hired a gang of crooks to kidnap her to make sure she doesn't collect. Meanwhile a boy (Harold Lloyd) is down on his luck and can't feed himself, much less the young orphan and her dog that attach themselves to Harold in the first reel. The boy gets offered some easy money to help kidnap the girl, but when he realizes what the group is planning on doing, he wants no part of it. The film ends in a race against time that foreshadows a lot of Lloyds feature films.
Made right after Captain Kidd's Kid, this movie features the
first appearance of Mildred Davis in a Lloyd film. Davis would go
on to be Harold's leading lady for the next four years until she married
Lloyd and retired from the screen. They would remain married until
his death 46 years later.
This was Lloyd's most Chaplin-esque film, much more so then his Lonesome Luke films. He really tried to tug at the heart-strings in the first reel. It was very reminiscent of The Kid, a film that Charlie Chaplin would release two years later. That's only the begining however. After the first ten minutes, it was almost like Lloyd had a change of mind. The second half of the film doesn't feature the girl or her dog until the last shots, and is a straight slapstick comedy. A pretty funny comedy at that. I loved the scene where Harold gets the police to chase him so they can arrest the kidnappers. It was a gag he would reuse For Heaven's Sake to get the pool hall ruffians into church. It worked very well in both films.
You can really see the glasses character come to life in this film. He's honest, hard working, resourceful and very likeable. This is the character that would make Lloyd famous.
High and Dizzy (1920): Harold's
second 'thrill picture.' Lloyd plays a doctor who has to cure a patient
(Mildred Davis) of sleepwalking. Before he goes over to see her though,
he drops by a friend's house (Roy Brooks) who has just finished his latest
batch of moonshine. They both sample a bit, then a bit more, and
by the time Harold arrives at the girl's hotel, he's wildly inebriated.
Of course she starts sleep walking, and walks out onto the window ledge,
several stories up. Harold goes right after her and manages to get
her back inside, where she promptly closes the window on him. Harold
sobers up quickly when he realizes how high up he is, but he's still got
to get off the side of the building.
This was a fun and exciting comedy. There were some good gags in the first section but the ending of the film where Harold is hanging off the side of a building was especially entertaining. Lloyd was remembered for his thrill pictures, and this one will give you a good idea why.
This also has the first credited appearance of Roy Brooks in a film. Roy was a good friend of Mildred Davis. After his film career failed to take off he became Harold's personal secretary and lived on Harold's estate for forty years until his death. Openly homosexual, Roy also served as a companion to Mildred while Harold was spending long hours filming.
Never Weaken (1921): One of Harold's
greatest shorts. The object of Harold's affection, Mildred Davis,
is the receptionist at a doctor's office. When Harold hears that
she's been fired because of a lack of patients, he sets out to drum up
some business for the doctor. He manages to fill the doctor's office,
but then overhears Mildred talking to another man and falsely thinks she's
in love with another. Not wanting to live without her, he tries to
kill himself only to end up out on a girder stories above the ground.
This was really laugh-filled, a fantastic comedy. This picture has it all, some great comic gags, spectacular thrills, and a great ending. Harold has his glasses character down pat by now and really understood what would and wouldn't work in his comedies. One of the best, and a personal favorite.
Among Those Present (1921): In Harold
Lloyd's second three-reel film (his first was Now or Never, also included
in this set) he play a bell hop at a fancy hotel. A con-man convinces
Harold to pretends to be Lord Algernon Abbott Aberdeen Abernathy, a newly
arrived English aristocrat. Thinking it's all for a jest, Harold
is introduced at a fancy party given my Mr. and Mrs. O'Brien where he regales
the guests with (made-up) tales of his hunting and riding days in England.
The next day, since he's such an accomplished rider, the pretend Lord is
given Dynamite, the wildest horse in the stables to ride. The result
is a hunt more exciting than any tale he's told.
This was another great comedy. The film is well constructed, and it doesn't drag or slow down, as some three-reelers do. The second half of the film where Harold has lost his pants and has to hide the fact from everyone he comes across is hilarious. The fox hunt was very thrilling and comic too, even better that the similar scene in Auntie Mame. It is easy to see how Harold was able to graduate to full length comedies soon after this.
Now or Never (1921): The Girl (Mildred Davis) is a nanny for a precocious little girl Dolly (Anna Mae Bilson). Mildred wants to go home for her 18th birthday because her boyfriend (Harold Lloyd) promised years ago that he'd marry her as soon as she came of age. She wants to see if he still remembers his promise. She hops on a train, and the little girl wants to come so badly that Mildred takes her too.
Harold does, and he's saved up money so that he can provide for his
wife. A hobo steals his bankroll though and when he sees the crook
climbing on the supports under a train car, Harold follows him. After
a harrowing fight under a moving train, the money is lost and Harold climbs
aboard where who does he find, but Mildred and Dolly. Unfortunately
Harold doesn't have a ticket, and the child's parents are also on the train.
Mildred leaves the young waif with Harold so she can explain the girl's
presence, and Harold is left to dodge the train conductor and take care
of a child at the same time.
This was a funny comedy, but not as good as Among Those Present. The film has a lot of good gags, but parts of it don't work as well as they could. The fight under the train for example. This wasn't as suspenseful as it could have been, and the whole scene had the look of being filmed on one of Roach's turning sets, which it probably was. Why Harold became so friendly with the crook who stole his money was never explained either. Even with these faults, there were some funny bits in the film. Anna Mae was very cute and did a good job for such a young actress.
Neither of these discs had any extras, but with so many great comedies, you really don't need any.
These are some top-notch silent comedies. This set gives a good overview of the genesis of the glasses character. Over the course of these films Lloyd fine tuned the character and created one of the screen's most memorable comedy figures. Not only that, but these are genuinely funny. Lloyd's hanging off of girders in Never Weaken and his being captured by "girl pirates" in Captain Kidd's Kid are just some of the hilarious moments in this four hour set.
At long last the Harold Lloyd Trust has come to an agreement with New Line to release a very comprehensive collection of Lloyd films at the end of 2005. (See this installment of Silent DVD for more details including release date and a list of films to be included.) The Harold Lloyd Collection is going to have the last five of these films that appear in this collection also. The quality will probably be pretty good, if the print of For Heaven's Sake that the trust allowed to be shown at this years San Francisco Silent Film Festival is any indication. Even so, I think this is a collection worth buying. The music that Donald Sosin wrote and preformed is also very good and adds to the feeling of the films. There is also the fact that Kino and Lobster have done another fantastic job on this set of silent comedies, and that should be rewarded with your support. But most of all the first five films on this collection are entertaining, if not perfect, and they show the way the glasses character evolved in his early films. Altogether this is a very funny set of films that look very good. Highly Recommended.
All three of these volumes has newly composed piano scores by Eric Le Guen (The Oliver Hardy Collection), Neil Brand (for Charlie Chase) and Donald Sosin (Harold Lloyd). All three sounded very good. The scores were scene specific and generally added to the experience of watching the film. Being recently recorded, there wasn't any audio defects. A very clean sounding track. I enjoyed them all, and thought that Sosin's score was particularly fitting and added a lot to the viewing experiance. Never Weaken was especially helped by the audio track. He includes a harp section when Harold thinks he's in heaven (and overhears a student harp player), and then he has a small combo playing jazz a few minutes later when one starts up in the film. This added a lot of humor to the film.
Like the previous three Slapstick Symposium releases, Lobster films has restored the images on these shorts and has done a very good job. The video quality was outstanding in general. There are some scratches and the occasional speck or two, and a very few scenes are a little faded and washed out, but these are only sections, and not the entire film. Once again I am impressed with the job that Lobster has done.
Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to send me an e-mail.
The 2013 San Francisco Silent Film Festival
The 2009 San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Douglas Fairbanks - A Modern Musketeer
The General - Kino's Ultimate 2-Disc Edition