So! We begin what will no doubt wind up being an epic series of posts, cos I’m going to be ploughing my way through the Harold Lloyd collection one disc at a time… and there’s nine discs to go through (I’m using the American box art to illustrate these posts cos I can’t find the art for the nine-disc edition I’m using), so we’ll be a while with this one. I’ll be reviewing it disc by disc, cos that’ll be easier than doing it film by film, which means we’ll be covering more than one title in each review. Here goes, then…
Safety Last: the collection kicks off, unsurprisingly, with Lloyd’s most famous film, although to be sure its fame does rest entirely on its last third, featuring that astonishing climb up the face of a very tall building. (The Australian DVD art features the iconic shot of him hanging off the clock face.) Apparently that idea came from one of his co-stars here, Bill Strother, who actually worked as a human fly; once Lloyd had the idea, he had to find a set-up justifying it. And this part, while cute, is a bit thin… but the stunt is a truly epic payoff that rewards the wait. Apart from being an interesting illustration of how editing can combine footage shot in a studio lot and other footage shot on location(s) to create an illusory whole, it’s just a stunning piece of protracted physical comedy; apart from a few shots with Strother doubling from a distance, Lloyd actually did this climb. Not bad for an acrophobic missing two fingers on his right hand. 88 years later, the whole scene is still one of the greatest things in film history.
An Eastern Westerner: one of the shorts he made for Hal Roach, wherein Harold’s dad sends his wastrel son out west to man up a bit, and he must face up to true love and a Klan-esque posse determined to run him out of town. It’s nice, but hard not to imagine Buster Keaton doing the same story and possibly improving on it; also hard not to feel something’s not right with the pacing, as if it were more a sketch of a feature film idea rather than a proper short. especially given how it never seems to make as much of the western setting as it might even within the confines of two reels.
Girl Shy: in which Harold plays a young man who believes that mortal fear of the opposite sex should be no impediment to writing a book in which one claims to be an expert on woman. (There’s the history of male/female relations right there, eh.) According to my records, it’s ten years since I last saw this, back in those long ago days when Cinematheque at the Chauvel was worth going to cos it was the only way you’d see films like this; my memory of it is that I didn’t like it that much, but I suspect I may have been watching the Time Life version from the 70s, and I gather those editions were kind of poor… either way I wound up enjoying this restored version a lot better; the plot is rom-com and, as Lloyd apparently claimed, meant to be more about character than gags, so there’s not as much small business as there was in Safety Last. Mind you, this is only true until the terrific climactic race where Harold must save his True Love from marrying an Utter Cad, a string of events where he must dodge bootleggers, traffic police and the traffic itself by variously stealing cars, horses, and best of all an out-of-control tram. Wish I could remember why I was cool on the film ten years ago, cos I liked it a lot tonight.