While this isn’t the first Harold Lloyd movie reviewed on this blog, it is the earliest I’ve seen with him in a starring comedic role. This comes from his time working for Hal Roach for the American Pathé Exchange. It does not disappoint, despite an obviously lower budget than Charlie Chaplin had at the time for his work.
Lloyd is still (sort of) impersonating Charlie here as the owner of a small movie theater – although his mustache is somewhat the inverse of Charlie’s and his pants are tight rather than baggy, he hasn’t developed the bespectacled, straw-hat-wearing look we associate with his 1920s pictures either. At times, he seems to try to walk like Charlie, but at others, his natural physicality takes over and we see his persona come through. Harold tries to run the movie theater more or less alone, he sells and tears the tickets, and he seats each patron individually, more or less by brute force. This would be a bit much, but he makes it even harder on himself by taking time to chat up all of the female customers. At least he doesn’t try to run the projector. He leaves this up to Snub Pollard, who seems to serve the purpose of Ben Turpin in an Chaplin Essanay film (or his own role in “By the Sea“). Snub unreels a large amount of film and makes a mess (and a fire hazard) of the projection booth. Once he gets it going, he falls asleep while cranking, requiring Harold to run up and boot him in the pants, which only makes him crank much too fast. The climax comes when a country yokel, straight out of an Edison comedy, puts his pipe in his pocket and catches fire, resulting in everyone panicking and running out of the theater. Snub leaps out of the projection booth on top of Harold.
What really struck me in this movie is how nice the small 10-cent theater looks compared to the movie theaters in Chaplin films of just two years earlier, to say nothing of “Those Awful Hats” (1909). The space is large and the screen is set above the heads of the patrons so they don’t block one another’s view, despite the lack of a sloping floor or theater seating. I also appreciated the attention given to the piano player – a vital element in every theater by 1916. The movie uses close-ups and sophisticated editing, but most of the humor comes directly from slapstick and Harold’s physical timing.
Director: Hal Roach
Run Time: 9 Min, 45 secs
You can watch it for free: here.