Harold Lloyd disc 8

Into the home stretch of the Lloyd box now, as we ponder the two remaining talkies in the set…

Movie Crazy: about the success of which I read distinctly conflicting reports; Lloyd’s IMDB bio writers claim it was a flop but the film’s Wiki entry describes it as a big hit. I was also amused to find an old LA Times article from 1990 talking about the restoration of the film and praising director Clyde Bruckman, noting how often the credit for his films’ success gets attributed to his stars; ironically, this time the star was kind of the one responsible, with Lloyd directing much of the film when Bruckman’s battle with the booze got the better of him. Lloyd plays a young man obsessed with breaking into motion pictures, and through a mistake gets invited to make a screen test. Despite being a disaster he keeps hanging around the lot and becomes an object of interest and amusement for one of the studio’s actresses, who rather toys with his affections in disguise as one of her characters. There’s a romantic rival too, but the film makes oddly little of this even though it’s the basis for the rather good fight between the two that climaxes the film (apparently shot silent and post-synced with sound effects—but almost no dialogue, demonstrating something had been learned from the end of Feet First). On the whole it’s possibly more a collection of reasonably good scenes (e.g. the “magician’s coat” business) than a completely successful film, and it’s still not up to the standards of his best silents; I don’t know what was cut from the shortened version that was the only one in circulation, but I suspect it may have been better in shorter form. A bit more problematically, for the first time I had difficulty buying Lloyd (39 when this was made) playing a man who must be in his early 20s at best. But, having said all that, it’s a damn sight better than his previous film—and it’s a fair advance on Buster Keaton’s Free and Easy which worked on a similar breaking-into-movies theme; I’ll watch Lloyd’s film again a lot sooner than I’ll watch Keaton’s.

Welcome Danger: and here, folks, is one of the reasons I’m reviewing the nine-disc Australian Lloyd set; this one got left off the American edition cos it was still being restored while that set was being assembled. So here’s the result… Lloyd last silent and first talkie, and an uneasy hybrid of the two it wound up being. Finished as a silent by Mal St Clair, it was turned into a sound film by Clyde Bruckman, who hit upon the idea of reshooting half the film with dialogue and post-syncing the rest. Which, in 1929, was a pretty advanced trick—this was the same year Alfred Hitchcock “dubbed” Anny Ondra in Blackmail by having another actress speak her lines from behind the camera into a microphone while Ondra mouthed the words, and the practice of making multiple versions of films in different languages would endure for some years after this—and one that this film didn’t quite pull off successfully; it remains painfully obvious, both visually and aurally, which bits were shot silent and dubbed long after the fact, and the net effect is not altogether satisfactory. In the film, Lloyd plays a young botany student called to San Francisco where his father was police chief, and winds up busting open a Chinatown tong. Storywise it’s actually quite good, and there’s an actually terrific scene where he and street cop Clancy (Noah Young) explore the gang’s hideout, part of it in total darkness and making good use of sound gags. Ultimately, though, the merciless length of the thing hampers it more than anything else; the first half hour or so actually behaves like another film entirely so it’s a long time before we get to the story proper. Astonishingly, the first cut ran nearly three hours before being cut back to just under two, which is still way too long. Obviously of some historical interest, but for the most part it’s a slog to watch.

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