Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Harold Lloyd

Look Pleasant, Please (1918)

This comedy short stars Harold Lloyd in an early version of his “glasses” character and pulls together many jokes that had been around at least as long as the movies, but manages a pacing and zaniness that shows how Lloyd rose to become one of the major comedy stars of the next decade.

The movie starts out in a (still) photographer’s studio, where Bebe Daniels is annoyed by the off-hand sexual harassment of the proprietor (William Gillespie). She runs to the phone to call her large and jealous husband, who tells Gillespie that he’s coming after him, firing off his gun a couple of times to make the point. Meanwhile, Lloyd works at a nearby vegetable stand, where he presses down the scales to rip off customers and charges a “war tax” of $1 for each item. A group of policemen come up and accuse him; he tries to buy them off with produce, but winds up running into the photographer’s to hide. The photographer mistakes Harold for the husband at first, but when Harold tries to hide instead of killing him, he gets an idea. He puts Harold in charge of the shop and goes to hide in the dark room.

Faith, hope, and charity

The next sequence of the film is a parade of silly customers to the studio, and Harold’s silly attempts to photograph them. One is an old maid (Dorothea Wolbert) who won’t stop talking, so Harold puts her face into a stand so she can’t speak, then poses her with a jug which winds up spilling all over her. He gives her a life preserver. Then a group of drunken swells come in (one of them is James Parrott). Lloyd has a hard time getting them to sit without falling over, but eventually poses them as “faith, hope and charity.” A country couple comes in, but their scene evidently was cut, as we cut back to Bebe and her husband, before seeing the “burles-queen,” who shocks Lloyd with her revealing outfit and briefly fights with janitor Snub Pollard when he tries to look up her skirt (with binoculars, no less). Snub is locked the dark room with the real photographer, but sticks Harold with a pin to escape, just as the husband charges in.  He fires his gun and now Lloyd also hides in the dark room, shoving first Pollard, then Gillespie out to confront the enraged man. A couple of fortuitous bits of crockery are hurled, forcing the husband into the dark room when a police inspector finally comes in to break it all up. Lloyd lets the husband out at the critical moment to punch the inspector, who arrests him, then embraces a quite-willing Bebe for the camera. The End.

A lot of the photography jokes go right back to early Edison, Gaumont, or Lumière films, but where they would have been entire films unto themselves in those days, here they are all thrown together and run at a furious pace, keeping the laughs coming non-stop. There’s little concern in this Hal Roach picture for narrative logic, and a lot more for comedy chaos, but it has a more deliberate feeling than comparable Keystones, as if Lloyd and director Alfred J. Goulding had thought through the chaos carefully before starting. The editing is spot-on and we get multiple camera-angles within scenes as well as cross-cutting to suggest simultaneous action. In other words, state of the art for 1918, but with a devil-may-care attitude to plotting that ties it back to an earlier style of comedy as well. A great example of Lloyd’s developing comedy style, before he started hanging of the edges of buildings to get laughs.

Director: Alfred J. Goulding

Camera: Walter Lundin

Starring: Harold Lloyd, Bebe Daniels, Snub Pollard, William Gillespie, James Parrott, Dorothea Wolbert

Run Time: 10 Min, 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Haunted Spooks (1920)

This horror spoof kicks off my annual “history of horror” for the month of October. It is a very funny – but also deeply problematic – comedy short featuring Harold Lloyd in his now-established “glass” character.

The movie begins with a series of funny intertitles that establish the cast and situation. Mildred Davis plays “The Girl,” who we are told is “Sweet Sixteen and never – – – well, only once or twice.” It is established that she is due to inherit a plantation and its associated fortune from her grandfather, so long as she is married and willing to live on the grounds with her husband for one year. The titles also tell us about Lloyd’s character (“The Boy: He wants to get married – – – Has no other faults,”) although we won’t meet him for a little while yet. Before that, we watch as her uncle (Wallace Howe, who plays “A man of sorts – – we are not saying what sort) reads the will and realizes that if he can drive her out of the house, he and his wife will be sole inheritors of the old Colonel’s property. Then we watch  clear parody of one of D.W. Griffith’s classic “bird-smooching heroine” introductions, in which Mildred is simply covered in cute critters, and even feeding a piglet from a milk bottle as well. Now William Gillespie, playing the family lawyer, arrives into her idyll and informs her of her new wealth, discovering to his embarrassment that she isn’t married. He promises to find her a cure for that and dashes off in his car.

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Luke’s Movie Muddle (1916)

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.

Lukes Movie MuddleLloyd 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.

Lukes Movie Muddle1What 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

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Harold Lloyd, Snub Pollard, Bud Jamison, Bebe Daniels

Run Time: 9 Min, 45 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Cinecon 51

CineconFolks who were paying attention probably noticed that last weekend, I was in Los Angeles, attending the 51st Cinecon Film Festival. They were kind enough to show three Century Films, which I reviewed on the spot, but I also wanted to talk about the festival more generally. It was held at the historic Grauman’s Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, and there were a block of rooms reserved at cut rate in the Loews Hollywood Hotel, which also housed the dealer rooms.

Blind-husbands-1919-movieposterFor my first visit to Hollywood this was a good location and a good time. I was able to see a number of touristy-historical locations by walking, and visited others by using the subway. The festival included a walking tour (hosted by John Bengtson of Silent Locations), a slide show stills of deleted scenes from Harold Lloyd movies, and author signings by film historians and writers. The movies were roughly split between silent and sound (I enjoyed the silents more, for the most part). Standouts included von Stroheim’s “Blind Husbands” (1919), Mary Pickford in “M’Liss,” (1918), Douglas Fairbanks in “Wild and Woolly” (1917), and the Harold Lloyd feature “The Kid Brother” (1927). Interesting sound pictures included “The Studio Murder Mystery” (1929) and Laurel and Hardy in “Jitterbugs” (1943). There was also a documentary about the Champion Studio of Fort Lee, New Jersey that would bring tears to any classic film fan’s eyes.

Jitterbugs_1943I don’t want to write an extensive critique, I just want to emphasize that I had a good time and this is a worthwhile festival for readers of my blog to attend. So, I’m going to emphasize the positive with…

Why Every Classic Film Fan Should Consider Going to Cinecon

Everyone on the Internet these days is crazy about lists, right? Well, I’m going to list the best things about the Cinecon Film Festival. This gives you almost a whole year to make up your mind about attending Cinecon 52!

  1. Movies you can’t see otherwise: I think one reason a lot of the classic film community winds up missing it is that they look at the roster of films, and they’ve only heard of one or two titles, but that’s exactly the point. Rather than showing movies you’ve already seen a hundred times, Cinecon seeks out the most difficult titles, the ones you didn’t know you needed to see. They announce them later than some of us would like to make our travel plans, too, but take the chance and register before you know for sure – you’re bound to be pleased.
  2. The opportunity to learn: Instead of having your already massive trivia knowledge confirmed, why not take a chance to find something new out? In addition to movies you wouldn’t have watched otherwise, there are special educational programs, such as John Bengtson’s tour of silent Hollywood and the fascinating set of stills from deleted scenes in Harold Lloyd movies that preceded “The Kid Brother.” The chance to hear erudite film scholars and preservationists introduce several of the films was also thrilling.
  3. These are the good guys: Cinecon is a nonprofit made up of classic film enthusiasts, preservationists, scholars, and others, not a bloated media mega-corporation engaging in dubious copyright tactics to ensure a stranglehold on classic filmdom. Support the good guys.
  4. Networking: Everyone at this festival is interested in knowing what it is you do. A lot of them are doing cool stuff, also. Talk to your neighbors, find out what brought them to Cinecon. Chances are you’ll learn something, and you might even gain a fan in the process.
  5. C’mon, silent/early sound movies in Hollywood! What better way to connect with the history you write and read about, and watch unfold on the screen, than to be right there where it happened, and to re-live it the way audiences of the time experienced it. It’s almost like having a time machine on hand.

A Submarine Pirate (1915)

Submarine_Pirate_1915

This short comedy stars Charlie Chaplin’s brother, Sydney Chaplin, whom Charlie had managed to get a job at Keystone before he left for Essanay. Syd only worked for Mack Sennett for a short while before going on to become Charlie’s manager, so this movie is one of the few insights we have into his talents. Like Charlie, he had learned his stuff doing broad comedy on the British vaudeville circuit, and he seems comfortable with slapstick. He actually reminded me a little of John Cleese, but that may have to do with the beginning of the movie, which is sort of like “Fawlty Towers.”

Sydney_chaplin

Sydney Chaplin

As the movie opens, Syd is in a situation that Charlie’s “Little Tramp” would find familiar – working at a hotel with an abusive boss and customers. He has a brief flirtation with a “peach” of a hotel guest, but mostly he is chased with umbrellas, shoes, and bottles. In the midst of all this, an “inventor” comes down stairs, and Syd manages to escape all the slapstick violence long enough to serve as waiter to him and his guest. He serves them from his pockets, and my biggest laugh came when he pulled an enormous loaf of bread out and chopped off pieces for them. The cook in the kitchen is a young Harold Lloyd, but he doesn’t really show off his future talents in this piece. Syd realizes that the guests have something cooking with a submarine, and figures out how to eavesdrop on their discussion and steal the papers the “inventor” was giving the other man to make him commander of the submarine.

 Submarine_Pirate2

Now, at about half-way through, the title of the movie starts to make sense. Syd, using his information and purloined papers, masquerades as the commander and takes charge of the submarine, pursuing a “treasure ship” which mostly seems to be loaded with passengers. In the meantime, the rebellious first mate makes an abortive attempt to drown the new commander by submerging while he is on deck, leading Syd to hang on to the key necessary for descent. He demands the boat’s surrender and takes men aboard to plunder its safe, but the radio operator gets off an SOS, summoning a navy gunboat. Syd and his crew retreat to the submarine, and manage to fire off a torpedo, with Syd clinging on. He loses the key needed to submerge the sub, so they try to fight with a “submarine gun” that seems pretty pathetic against the gunboat’s cannon. The sub is sunk, and Syd sticks his head out a porthole, to be bitten by a large fish or shark.

At the time of release, submarine warfare was no joking matter in the US, as Germany had moved to “unrestricted warfare” in the Atlantic and sank the RMS Lusitania in May, 1915 (the movie came out in November), killing more than 100 American passengers. Syd’s character, therefore, is hardly sympathetic, and there may have been some satisfaction in seeing him get his comeuppance at the hands of a navy vessel. To be sure, all the violence in this movie is cartoonish slapstick, and no one is shown in danger of actually drowning or being blown up, but there may be an element of propaganda to it nonetheless. I wouldn’t rate it as highly as Charlie’s better work, but it is an interesting and relatively large budget Keystone comedy of the time.

Director: Charles Avery & Sydney Chaplin

Starring: Sydney Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Edgar Kennedy, Phyllis Allen

Run Time: 25 Min, 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914)

Patchwork Girl of Oz

Twenty five years before Judy Garland, L. Frank Baum himself was involved in the production of several “Oz” films, through a company called “The Oz Film Manufacturing Company.” Although the movies were not successful, Baum must be seen as smart to try to cash in on the new medium, at a time when producers were eagerly grabbing up (or stealing) written content to serve as storylines. This was the first of his books the company adapted, and it relies on pantomime and slapstick, and a few Méliès-style special effects, to create the atmosphere of his imaginary kingdom. There are few intertitles, but we do get camera movement and intercutting between scenes. The “girl” of the title is played by a man (French acrobat Pierre Couderc), while the main Munchkin “boy” is played by an adult woman (Violet MacMillan, who made her name as the “Cinderella Girl” for having children’s size 11 feet). There is other gender-bending in the cast as well, and all the gender-identified women fall in love with a miniature statue of one of the only males played by a man who is neither old nor deformed. Harold Lloyd and Hal Roach, who went on to make many great comedies together, met on this film, each of them in the ethnic-caricature role of a “Tottenhot.” Ozma of Oz, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man all make appearances near the end.

Director: J. Farrell MacDonald

Writer/Producer: L. Frank Baum

Camera: James A. Crosby

Starring: Violet MacMillan, Pierre Couderc, Fred Woodward, Harold Lloyd, Hal Roach

Run Time: 48 Min

You can watch it for free: here or here.