Harold Lloyd disc 4

The Kid Brother: to give Harold Lloyd credit where it’s due, he did quite well at playing characters between 10 and 20 years younger than his actual age (cf. The Cat’s-Paw, where 41-year-old Lloyd was playing someone clearly in his mid to late 20s), and astute casting here of people taller than him furthers the illusion of them being older than him (he was, in fact, older than both his “older brothers” in this film). Here he’s the youngest of the three sons of the sheriff of a small rural town, not yet treated like an adult by the rest of the family; the brothers got the brawn while he got the brains, but he’s not appreciated. So far I still think this is the best of the Lloyd features I’ve seen; Safety Last might be better known but this seems like the better film… unlike that one, where they clearly came up with the epic ending first and then had to come up with the story to rationalise it, here everything is properly integrated, the setup for the conclusion is far better established, and the mix of everything in the film—characters, gags, narrative, comic and dramatic timing, action sequences, all of that and more—seems just right. I wonder if the fact that it wasn’t a Newmeyer/Taylor job had anything to do with that (Lewis Milestone actually started it but left early). Similarly, Ted Wilde also directed Speedy, which I also thought was terrific the last time I saw it, probably only just behind this one in my own estimation. Connection? Maybe. I’m sure Lloyd himself was the real driving force behind his films, whoever the credited director was. Kid Brother is one of the best films I’ve seen from the 20s at any rate.

Bumping Into Broadway and Billy Blazes, Esq.: here’s where the non-chronological layout of the set becomes problematic. I mean, yeah, if you want to follow Lloyd’s development as it happened you can do that, nothing’s stopping you, but there’s an awful lot of disc changing involved. Watching each disc through is easier, which is why I’m doing it that way, but it does mean you get thrown around some. Here, for example, you go from a quite sophisticated late 20s film, quite diverse and rich, to these… well, comparative primitives. It’s not just the difference between Kid Brother being a feature and these being a two- and one-reeler respectively, either, at least I don’t think so. I found this review of an older collection of Lloyd films which includes this comment: “In an era of comic grotesques, Lloyd’s “glasses character” was singularly human”. That’s well said, but I don’t think it holds true of these two shorts at least; here he’s still in the realm of the grotesques. Not that this is a bad thing, necessarily, both films have their pleasures. In the first one he’s an aspiring composer of musical comedies who first has to dodge his landlady and her heavy sidekick on rent collection day, then a horde of cops who come to bust up a gambling den he scams his way into. In the second, he’s the titular resourceful western hero who has to rescue a girl from a lawless western town. Both of them are perfectly good—the former contains some particularly terrific examples of the intertitle writer and designer’s particular arts, and the latter has a lot of energy and vigour packed into just twelve minutes—but they’re rooted in the slapstick tradition of their decade. There’s just eight years between them and the feature. but somehow they seem even further away in time from it than they do from us.

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