Speedy: delightful to revisit this, and now that I think about it maybe there is something a bit different about the features Ted Wilde directed for Lloyd, though I’m not sure what… is it a bit more cohesion? Maybe that… though whether that’s attributable to the director or to Lloyd refining his art over time I’m not sure. This is somewhat more episodic than Kid Brother, perhaps, but there’s still a through-plot that holds the whole thing together. Harold plays a young man besotted with baseball and chronically incapable of holding a job down; meanwhile, the grandfather of the love of his life runs the last horse-drawn tram in New York, and is being targeted by the owner of a rival company trying to take over his business. In the midst of his own employment dramas, Harold has to prevent the old boy losing his livelihood. The film itself embodies the resourcefulness of Lloyd’s character, incorporating a genuine and potentially disastrous accident involving the trolley into the finished film (long before Gone in 60 Seconds!), and really it has so much to offer: a final chase sequence that just about tops Lloyd’s various other chase endings as well as The French Connection, terrific range of 1927/28 New York street scenes, a mighty all-in brawl between the trolley company owner’s hired goons and Harold’s ad hoc army of ferocious old guys and a dog, Babe Ruth as himself… Somehow it’s not quite as good as The Kid Brother. Mind you, if it weren’t for that film, this’d probably be his best. A winning way for Lloyd to see out the silent era.
Never Weaken: MORE shenanigans with tall buildings! Only this time he’s stuck outside in the girders of a building still being built, so it’s not like there’s an “inside” into which he can escape. Going on the running time I’m presuming this is another three-reeler, certainly it seems like it falls into three parts: one, Harold tries to help his beloved keep her job at a surgery by drumming up business; two, he thinks she suddenly doesn’t love him any more and tries to kill himself; three, following on from the latter, he finds himself up up and away with a bit of unwitting assistance from some construction workers. Pretty good though I don’t know how well the whole thing hangs together.
Haunted Spooks: in which Harold marries a young girl who simply must marry someone, anyone to inherit a nice big property her wicked aunt and uncle are trying to cheat her out of. Amusing, though more historically notable as being the film Lloyd was working on when he had that accident. Badly burned, temporarily blinded and minus two fingers on his right hand, that could’ve ended some people’s careers; the astonishing thing is that not only was it barely a blip—Hal Roach had several other Lloyd shorts in the can to tide audiences over while he was out of action, so he wasn’t off screens for long—he actually flourished afterwards, overcame the strife he was in and became one of the biggest stars in American movies. Something kind of heroic about that.
Grandma’s Boy: I think this is generally considered Lloyd’s first feature, though I’ve read it wasn’t really planned to be one; apparently they kept shooting stuff and couldn’t cut it any shorter. If that’s true, I must admit I can’t see any signs of improvisation or anything like that, it works quite well… It’s kind of coming of age stuff, Harold plays a young man who’s basically been bullied all his life and is, to put it mildly, inadequate, until granny inspires him to be a lot more than he thinks he is. There’s a bit of a sentimental streak running through this like there is in Dr Jack, it’s kind of like he had to exorcise that tendency with his 1922 features cos it doesn’t seem to come back after that; similarly the “flashback” to his grandfather’s civil war antics demonstrates he perhaps had to get rid of one last trace of the old slapstick days, i.e. the brilliantly preposterous fake sideburns. Nice.