Monday, September 29, 2008

The Harold Dispatch

TCM ran a quartet of Harold Lloyd comedy shorts last night in the time slot they reserve for silent films, and since I was wide awake at the time they came on I decided to sit down and view them. I’d already seen two of the four, including the best of the bunch—a 1920 outing called Get Out and Get Under, in which our hero, already late for a little theater performance at his girlfriend’s (Mildred Davis, later Mrs. Harold Lloyd in real-life) house, journeys over in his prized jitney (“Only two more payments and it’s all mine”), experiencing automobile trouble along the way. I first saw this winner during a American Movie Classics’ Film Preservation Festival (ah, those were the days) and it’s a lot of fun—the highlight is when he has an encounter with Ernie “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison, who is bursting with curiosity to watch Harold work on his car. There are a lot of great gags in this one, including a sequence where Harold hides from the cops by driving with a tent over his car; Lloyd later recycled this in Professor Beware (1938)—which. in turn. was “liberated” by the Three Stooges for their 1942 two-reeler Sock-a-Bye Baby.

I’d also seen Among Those Present (1921), which although entertaining isn’t really one of Lloyd’s best outings—not only is it unnecessarily padded by a reel but drops most of its interesting plot points in favor of gags that those familiar with Hal Roach comedies will recognize as staples in the studio’s product (I’m referring to the mistaking-the-skunk-for-a-kitty and I’ve-lost-my-pants examples). Harold’s a coatroom-checker who agrees to pass himself off as the aristocratic Lord Algernon Abbott Aberdeen Abernathy at a shindig given by a nouveau riche Irish couple (whose daughter, Mildred Davis, naturally develops a crush on Harold) because the wife’s social secretary (Vera White) and her partner-in-evilness are in cahoots to relieve the couple of their million-dollar fortune. It’s not a bad short—just a mundane one—but there’s a funny sight gag in which Harold crawls into a hollow log after a fox, followed by a bear…and when the dust clears, he emerges from the log carrying the fox like a stole and leading the bandaged bear on a leash behind him. (I also liked actress Aggie Herring, the actress who plays the mother, because her facial expressions are priceless and her eyes pop out so far you’d swear she had a thyroid condition.)

Robert Osborne announced during this mini-festival that this was the first time TCM had shown From Hand to Mouth (1919), an entertaining little short that also features Harold and Mildred: he’s a down-and-out type always concerned about his next meal and she’s an heiress whose skeevy lawyer (his last name is “Leech,” which will give you an idea of how subtle he is) and immoral foster brother are scheming to grab her fortune by having her kidnapped by ‘Snub’ Pollard (billed as Harry) and Noah Young. (Let’s just say that anytime you come across Young in a Hal Roach film…he’s not there to collect for the United Way.) Pollard and Young enlist the unsuspecting Harold in their diabolical scheme (they ask Lloyd if he knows how to “jimmy” a window; Harold responds by taking the crowbar and breaking the glass) but Harold soon catches on and in Keatonesque fashion, manages to cordon off enough gendarmes to roust the bad guys. I liked Mouth, even if it is awfully reminiscent of both Buster and Chaplin (particularly in the opening scenes and at the end, when Lloyd befriends waif Peggy Cartwright and her dog and the three of them are on the hunt for sustenance).

The last short in this group was Bumping Into Broadway (1919), the first two-reeler Lloyd made as “the glasses” character—and the second-to-last short he made with long-time leading lady Bebe Daniels. Bebe is a chorus girl who’s behind in her rent at the boarding house she’s staying in—Harold, an aspiring playwright, is her neighbor and gives her the money to pay what she owes…even though he needs it just as badly to settle his account. Broadway is breezy if uninspired fun; there is, however, a funny gag in which Harold, having sneaked into the theater where Bebe is employed in a grandfather clock, emerges from his hiding place to see her wearing her skimpy outfit…so he ducks back into the clock and then knocks on the outside door to obtain permission to “visit” with her. He also resorts to the old gag where he dons a large overcoat and “hangs” on a hook to elude a gang of cops (who raid the casino-speakeasy where he’s unwittingly broken the bank); a choice bit of business he would use many times throughout his film career (particularly in Safety Last! [1923]).

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