The Kid Brother (1927) Review

The Kid Brother (1927) Director: Ted Wilde (though there were several directors)

★★★☆☆

The Kid Brother is the story of the Hickory family, respected rural gentry with three sons. The patriarch is the local sheriff. Both elder brothers do not respect the youngest (Harold Lloyd) and they call him weak. A traveling medicine show comes to town, and Harold, who is wearing his father’s gear, is mistaken for the local sheriff. A young woman, Mary, is part of the traveling show (since her father died) and Harold, posing as his father, allows the show to proceed.

Harold then gets into a fight with Hank, his arch-nemesis who starts a fire and burns down the medicine show wagon. Harold invites Mary to stay the night at his family’s home, in part so that she can avoid any unwanted attention from a lurking creeper named Sandoni. The next day, Farrell and Sandoni are found missing as are the funds for building the town dam, and the sheriff, Harold’s father, is blamed. He sends his two older sons after Farrell and Sandoni but they turn up empty-handed. Mary is then accused of the theft, as well, and Harold is knocked out where he falls into a row boat while trying to defend her. He is then sent adrift until he awakens and happens upon a boat where he discovers the missing men and money. He recovers the money and returns it to Hickory, thus freeing his father. In the end, he finally becomes a celebrated Hickory family member.

Lewis Milestone originally directed this film, but he abandoned the project due to an internal dispute. Then Ted Wilde took it over, as Lloyd’s friend, but he ultimately quit as a result of pneumonia and died in 1929, and so Lloyd ultimately finished directing the project himself. After watching this film, I learned that in the 1970s Lloyd eventually had his own show, featuring clips from his silent films. In his heyday he made more than 300 films. He retired after completing six talkies and proceeded to preserve the original negatives for his films, though many were lost in a tragic fire in 1943 at his private studio –the destruction tore Lloyd apart. He died in 1971 and since then his films have steadily been re-appraised thanks to the efforts of the Criterion Collection and others.

The Freshman (1925) Review

The Freshman (1925) Director: Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor

★★★★☆

The Freshman is the original college satire film. It was Harold Lloyd’s second big hit comedy after Safety Last! in 1923. The film was shot at a variety of California college campuses, including USC. The sports teams featured at the close of the film were actually Stanford and UC Berkeley. It was Lloyd’s most successful film of the 1920s, even though today most remember him for Safety Last!

Harold Lloyd plays a fresh-faced and ambitious, albeit clumsy, student who is going away to college. He tries to emulate his college football hero, but ultimately he winds up looking foolish. He meets a young girl, Peggy, who fancies him, despite the fact that he is pranked left and right, from the commencement ceremony, to the football team, and the Fall “frolic” where his suit is constantly unraveling at the seams. In the end, he is allowed to play for the football team in a last-ditch effort when all other available players have been injured and he unexpectedly wins the game and wins the heart of Peggy.

The Freshman is a delightful comedy film that is amazingly well-preserved by the Criterion Collection. It was a pleasure to see the origins of many now-familiar gags employed in later college satire films, such as the fresh-faced student, the jock, and the mean crusty Dean of the College. This is another fun romp through Harold Lloyd’s world.

Safety Last! (1923) Review

Safety Last! (1923) Director: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor

Lloyd, Harold (Safety Last)_01

★★★★★

Safety Last! is a charming film filled with laughter and more than a dash of white-knuckle intensity. Its most famous scene features Harold Lloyd scaling a huge clocktower, and it still makes audiences anxious! It is one of the best crafted scenes in all of silent cinema –this film is not for the faint of heart, and in some respects it rivals any contemporary thriller.

The film opens with Harold, his mother, and girlfriend Mildred walking to a train station with what appears to be a noose in the foreground, but it is soon revealed to be a part of the train station. Harold is heading off to the city to make it big. He promises to write to Mildred frequently and send for her so they can get married. Harold finds a sales job at the De Vore Department Store. He is constantly getting into trouble with Mr. Stubbs, the head floor manager and he also regularly flees from the police with his roommate and friend, “Limpy” Bill.

Harold sends an expensive necklace to his girlfriend Mildred so that she thinks he is becoming wealthy and successful. She soon comes to visit Harold and he must pretend as if he is the general manager of the department store. However, the true general manager offers $1,000 to anyone who can bring hundreds of people into the store. Harold comes up with the idea of splitting the money with his room mate if he publicizes the fact that he will climb the “12 Story Bolton Building” as a death-defying stunt. The next day hundreds of people show up, but his room mate is soon spotted the police and chased. They devise a plan for Harold to climb one floor and meet “Limpy” Bill who trade hats and coats so he can climb the rest of the way while avoiding the cops. However, Bill cannot avoid them in time so Harold must climb the whole way.

Each floor yields a new challenge: mice, birds, objects being tossed out of windows, onlookers, attack dogs, and a large clock that Harold finds himself hanging onto for dear life. Eventually, after a grueling scene, Harold makes it to the top of the building to find Mildred there waiting for him and they walk off together arm in arm.

Annex - Lloyd, Harold (Safety Last)_02

Like Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd performed many of the stunts himself, despite losing his thumb and forefinger four years earlier in a filming accident. Someone handed Lloyd a bomb, and thinking it was a mere prop, Lloyd lit it with a cigarette and it promptly blew off his right thumb and index finger. This led him to wear a white glove in all his future films. While climbing the wall during Safety Last!, which was really a clever facade built atop of a skyscraper, Lloyd grabs hold of the clock that reads 2:45, with the hands being parallel to facilitate the stunt. In contrast to any mother’s advice (i.e. “safety first”) Harold Lloyd gives us a terrifically risky comedy in Safety Last!