LLooking Forward: Llots of Lloyd on TCM, Thursday, May 23

21 May

A long block of Harold Lloyd begins on TCM at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 23 with Safety Last! and ends with Hot Water, which starts at 5:00 the following a.m.

So here’s where I stand on the controversial question: I don’t believe it’s necessary to take sides, per se, regarding the Holy Trinity; each was a fine mime, a fine director/gag constructor (within their respective partnerships and stock companies) and each was a terrific actor in ways that were separate from  pantomime skill. But each has superstrengths.

 

Hot Water (1924)

Hot Water (1924)

Chaplin was the finest mime: his wrists, his elbows, his upper lip. Magic. Keaton the finest director: the construction and the execution. Man.

And Lloyd was, I think, the best actor in a more modern sense: or let’s say that the stories he chose to tell with his bespectacled persona allowed for more chance to feature this skill. There are always a couple of reminder gags to begin a Chaplin or Keaton tale, but not character development per se.

Perhaps this is the way to put it, that I may avoid vehement fans of one or the other or of a silent clown not included (and I’ll out myself as none of the above, swayed entirely by mood, though statistically Keaton fits my mood more often): all three made films about relationships. Chaplin’s tended toward the Little Tramp’s relationship with Society, Keaton’s were inevitably about that flat-Stetsoned man’s relationship with machine and nature. Lloyd’s, despite his reputation for large-scale stunt work,  were most often about much smaller sets of relationships – family and individuals. Which leaned into what would become romantic comedy, which he didn’t invent or anything, but was certainly doing it before that’s what they were calling it.

To me, he’s the beginning of the modern romantic comedy star. Often in Keaton and Chaplin, the boy-girl romance element is either taken for Girl-In-The-Picture granted or hurled headlong into melodrama of a 19th Century mold. In most mature Lloyd I believe that he’s developing some kind of mutual entanglement with The Girl In Question. Which, in comedy of the era is not something one can count on, is all.

Harold Lloyd is the first silent comedy I forced on my nephews, last summer (Safety Last). It’s easy to convince a couple of boys in the 10-12 range to watch Lloyd: tell them about his missing fingers and remind them if necessary. Then they freak out when he climbs around on buildings. (I also once made an adult friend, a lover of violent Hong Kong action and Tarantino stuff, watch this and when the climb got tense she screamed more than once and was very upset with me for making her suffer. It was pretty great.) That kind of life/death stuff draws them in nicely, and they’re more able to take the difference in pacing in stride.

Some of the shorts from the teens TCM is showing will be new to me, but well-beloved are the features: Safety Last (the one with the clock), The Freshman (“Folks call me Speedy!” (insert footwork)), Hot Water (which I need to see again – it’s been quite a while), and The Kid Brother (one of my favorite Lloyds of all, which…).

The Kid Brother (1927)

The Kid Brother (1927)

Jobyna bouncing on the basket, and the subsequent tears vs. rain confusion; the fight(s) with his cretin of a neighbor; the pointless humiliations of the medicine show charlatans; the joy the whole movie finds in hiding information from us just out of frame and then revealing it as if by accident (not a new trick in silent comedy, but it’s practically a theme in The Kid Brother); the Tree Climb, good lord, the Tree Climb, a mini-object lesson in how to incorporating stunts into actual character/plot development.

I had the pleasure of being part of a trio of musicians improvising a score to The Kid Brother a couple of years ago, which made me appreciate its rhythmic changeups all the more. It’s just a lovely, pleasing thing, and while I wouldn’t call it Lloyd’s best, it’s my sentimental favorite. Today.

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