Harold Lloyd 1921 comedy shorts
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Year:
1921
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Actor:
Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Aggie Herring, Anna Mae Bilson, Charles Stevenson, George Rowe, Mark Jones, Irene De Voss, Jackie Morgan, Jackie Edwards, James T. Kelley, Noah Young, Roy Brooks, Vera White, William Gillespie
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Format:
4 short films
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Review date:
19 June 2017
These would be Harold Lloyd's last comedy shorts, not counting his cameo role in an Our Gang short from 1923. After this, he moved on to feature films. There are four of these and they're not actually very good, but Natsuki's mind was blown by the third reel of 'Never Weaken'.
Recurring features are "Harold Lloyd babysits a child" (two films) and everyone being posh social climbers and/or filthy rich (three films), sometimes including Harold Lloyd himself. Mildred Davis again plays his love interest in all of them.
1. NOW OR NEVER
As isn't unknown among the Harold Lloyd shorts I've seen recently, it's ingenious, likeable and has gags, but not actually funny. Natsuki lost interest and started playing with Lego.
I think it's the lesser of the two babysitting films. It starts with some mildly poignant material with a small child who's being neglected by her workaholic money-driven father and her party-crazed mother. That was promising. I liked that opening. "Won't you take me with you?" the girl asks. "They'll never miss me for such a short time."
There's also some frenetic silent action, which is always worth a look. Harold Lloyd does some Mega-Driving, which is like driving but more mental. He also has lots of fun with a train, both hanging underneath it and then later on its roof.
Most of the babysitting material is unremarkable, though. There's no narrative momentum, the child herself is a bit bland and sequences like the shaving/toothbrush one just aren't funny. It's still moderately watchable, but you couldn't really say that its story has a point.
2. AMONG THOSE PRESENT
This one's a bit confusing. It seems to be set in England, with Harold Lloyd being hired to impersonate an English lord at a fox hunting party. (Does America have fox hunting? I suppose it could have English lords, if they were living over there.) There are also some amusingly delicate sensibilities, with all civilised persons being sent into paroxysms at the sight of Harold Lloyd with no trousers. (That might be a 1921 thing rather than an upper-class thing, though.) However the currency is dollars, there are skunks and rattlesnakes outside and the intertitle dialogue is American, e.g. "any of these swells". "Honoured" is spelled without a "U". It's America. No other conclusion is possible. However I'd still like to know if the filmmakers really had intended to make a story set in Britain, or whether it's part of the gag that these social climbers in America are resembling the English.
Anyway, Harold Lloyd (hotel bellboy) is pretending to be the English Lord Abernathy. At one point he seems to do a Stan Laurel impersonation (head-scratching and everything), but this is six years before Laurel and Hardy got together. He gets drunk and tells tall stories. I wasn't wild about all that and once again Natsuki stopped watching. He also smokes lots of cigarettes, by the way, which he'd also done in 'Now or Never'.
It's not great. Lloyd's doing pretty well in a kind of story that's more associated with Chaplin, but it's still not one of his better films. There are high points, though. There's horseback comedy, witty intertitles again and a funny closing shot where Lloyd eats a flower.
3. I DO
That was actually okay. Lloyd thinking he'd been shot made me laugh. Tomoko hated the film, though, albeit for personal reasons. This is the second babysitting film and both Lloyd and the brat are appalling. Admittedly it's not Lloyd's fault and he's completely out of his depth, but the boy's an evil demon from hell. He's the kind of child who'll pull out a saw and start cutting off your sofa legs. He's clearly had no meaningful parenting and the adults who spawned him should go to prison. (We even know the guilty parties. "Look after our kids tonight," says Mildred Davis's brother. "They're so quiet, you'll never know they're there.")
Lloyd's already married to Mildred Davis in this one, by the way. Their wedding's the opening scene, mysteriously done with animation. Maybe it's a budget thing? They're stinking rich and they live in a mansion, so doing their wedding in live-action would have probably broken the bank.
I liked it. It's quite funny.
4. NEVER WEAKEN
Reel 1 is a bit unsettling. Mildred Davis is close to being sacked by her boss (an unsuccessful osteopath), so Lloyd goes out to drum up patients for him. In fairness, this could have been darker. Lloyd doesn't start deliberately crippling people. However his efforts do involve an acrobat, worryingly smooth confidence tricks and extreme physical abuse of someone who might actually have died. The soaped-up road was quite funny, though.
Reel 2 is then unsettling in a different way. Lloyd jumps to conclusions about Mildred Davis and decides to kill himself. Reel 2 is his attempts at this. Admittedly this is more sedentary and less physical than such gags are liable to be in silent comedies. (Lloyd's easily distracted.) However I was still fending off questions from Natsuki about what Lloyd was doing.
Reel 3 is the one that melted Natsuki's brain, though. He went berserk. He was trying to kill himself on sofas, chairs and my leg from then until bedtime. It's one of Lloyd's trademark "thrill" comedies, in which he ends up on top of a tall building while it's still being built. Steel beams swing around on ropes. Lloyd's character handles the situation with all the poise and self-control of a flock of chickens who've just seen a fox. It's a long routine and it's a barnstormer.
SUMMARY
I've seen it said that Lloyd's best work was in his features. I can imagine that. I also have a few of his earlier shorts on DVD (well, 1919), but I've dropped the plan I had of watching them systematically on YouTube. I'm still a fan of his, though, and I remember watching lots of his work on BBC2 in the 1980s. (Was it BBC2? I think it was.) If someone released a restored DVD boxed set of his surviving short films, I'd buy it like a shot.
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