Natsuki said he wanted to watch some Harold Lloyd. I said I'd run out of his short films, but I had some longer ones. Natsuki had no problem with that, so we watched Harold Lloyd's first ever feature.
(Admittedly 47 minutes hardly seems long enough to call this a feature film, but that's because it wasn't shot as one. It started life as another comedy short, albeit one that was obviously going to overrun heavily. Hal Roach, the producer, decided to shoot everything and worry about editing it down afterwards... but then test audiences enjoyed the complete four-reel version so much that Lloyd just released the whole thing as it was.)
Anyway, Natsuki enjoyed it too. He laughed. He got scared at about the 40-minute mark by the villainous Rajah, which is understandable for a four-year-old, so we turned it off and I watched the rest on my own this morning. It's good, although I'm actually not displeased that Natsuki missed a finale with Lloyd harmlessly knocking a dozen men unconscious by hitting them on the head with a club.
It starts out with Lloyd playing a rich layabout with an attitude. If he'd been the villain, he'd have been insufferable. He strolls around like the High King of Everywhere, being high-handed and treating everyone as servants. On seeing Mildred Davis for the first time in his life, he introduces himself with "It's too hot to play croquet; let's get married." When she fobs him off on her father, he introduces himself with "I've decided to marry your daughter." He's appalling. This is quite amusing, but you'll still be cheering when he falls into the clutches of the Navy. (Davis's dad tells him to get a job if he wants to get married, so Lloyd saunters down to the nearest recruiting office. "I've decided to join your Navy.")
A sailor's life knocks Lloyd down a peg and from now on he's his usual self. He makes an enemy of Noah Young, who acted in over fifty Harold Lloyd films and had been a champion weightlifter. There's the usual silly business, including a monkey/mirror gag that made Natsuki laugh, but this is followed by a surprisingly lovable bit when Lloyd and Young become friends after defending each other from a superior officer. (It's done gruffly yet delicately, with Lloyd refusing to shift the blame even on to a man who'd just been trying to choke him to death, whereupon Young eventually stomps over to help Lloyd in his punishment task of scrubbing the decks. Neither man makes a big thing of it. They just scrub away alongside each other.)
There's more shipbound comedy after that, including some genuinely funny business with an officer... and that's the first half. After that, our heroes go ashore somewhere that might be North Africa, the Middle East or even possibly India. It has lots of exotic market stalls and a Rajah with a harem. This looks surprisingly convincing (although it might perhaps have been more so with more extras to pad out the crowd scenes) and even the white actors in blackface make-up aren't that offensive to look at. The only really bad one is the evil street magician and his angler fish teeth. That racial angle could have made this film unwatchable from a modern perspective, but I'd say they get away with it. Almost everything looks reasonably okay, with no front-and-centre actors who are grossly unconvincing. Dick Sutherland wasn't of an appropriate ethnicity to play the Maharajah of Khairpura-Bhandanna, for instance, but he's got a brilliant villain face that makes it work anyway. (He suffered from acromegaly.) He convinced Natsuki, at least.
It's a Harold Lloyd short, but longer. Simple as that. The plot's straightforward. It has lots of chase action at the end, with Lloyd rescuing Davis and then having a comedy fail when trying to kiss her and march at the same time. Davis has a mostly thankless role, but she gets more to do in the early garden party scenes, which depart from formula somewhat with Lloyd playing a complete cock. It's that apparently uncharacteristic first act that gives the script a dramatic shape and makes it work as a film, actually. (It's still a silly silent comedy, but Lloyd actually has a character journey and I like what Young adds to that.) The film's charming, action-packed and funny. Job done.