For fans of silent comedy, it’s the DVD event of the decade: Harold Lloyd, the “Third Genius” of silent comedy (Chaplin and Keaton being the other two), until now almost totally unavailable on DVD, at last enters the modern home-video age in grand style with the The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection, a three-volume, six-disc set (with a bonus disc available with the full set) featuring all the comedian’s greatest and best-known films, and then some.
Finally, movie buffs who know Lloyd only from the famous image of the bespectacled star dangling perilously from the hands of a giant clock twelve stories above the streets of Los Angeles can enjoy Lloyd’s entire nerve-racking skyscraper climb in Safety Last!, found in Volume 1.
Volume 2 features two of Lloyd’s best films, college football spoof The Freshman and Lloyd’s all-time masterpiece, The Kid Brother, a frontier thrill comedy with Lloyd pitted against his loutish older brothers, a bullying neighbor, and medicine-show hucksters.
Volume 3 includes Speedy, Lloyd’s last silent masterpiece, shot in various New York City locations and featuring a spectacular trolley-car chase scene and a cameo by Babe Ruth.
Although not a household name today, Lloyd was perhaps more popular than Chaplin or Keaton in their own day. With his earnest, bespectacled “Glasses Character” persona, he engendered instant audience sympathy in a way that Chaplin’s Little Tramp quirkiness and even Keaton’s deadpan steadiness didn’t. Lloyd’s physical comedy has influenced actors from Lucille Ball to Jackie Chan, and his trademark horn-rimmed glasses are reflected in the bespectacled appearances of characters ranging from Clark Kent to Bringing Up Baby’s Cary Grant to Harry Potter.
Yet where the works of Chaplin and Keaton have enjoyed much attention and various revivals over the decades, Lloyd’s work has been comparatively neglected — largely because Lloyd himself held copyright on his films, and promoted them infrequently.
Now at last the Harold Lloyd Trust and New Line Home Video have given Lloyd’s films their due, with 15 feature films and 13 shorts restored and rescored, plus generous extras, including commentaries by Leonard Maltin, Suzanne Lloyd, Annette D’Agostino Lloyd, and others.
Lloyd’s films make wonderful family viewing. Last night my kids and I watched Safety Last!, and they laughed hysterically throughout. They’re also great fans of The Kid Brother, and enjoyed Grandma’s Boy and a number of shorts available in a previous DVD edition. I’m looking forward to introducing them to Speedy, The Freshman, and others in coming weeks, not to mention the shorts, most of which I’ve never seen myself.
More charming than uproarious, Grandma’s Boy isn’t in the same league as films like >The Kid Brother, Speedy, and Safety Last! However, it’s well structured for its day, and set the pattern for Lloyd’s best comedy features by helping to define the definitive dramatic story-arc for Lloyd’s already-famous Glasses Character persona.
As a first introduction to silent film, I would pick The Kid Brother over the best of Chaplin (Modern Times, City Lights) or Keaton (The General, Steamboat Bill, Jr.) every time.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.