Silent comedy great Harold Lloyd’s first two feature-length comedies were both in a sense made by accident. The first, A Sailor-Made Man, was originally intended as a short subject, but test footage was so successful with preview audiences that Lloyd decided not to make planned cuts, and so it wound up being Lloyd’s first feature-length comedy.
With Grandma’s Boy, the story was almost the opposite. The film was developed from the start as a feature film, but intended less as a comedy than an exciting melodrama. However, it tested poorly with preview audiences, so gags were developed and added and it was ultimately released as a “thrill comedy,” the genre in which Harold did his best work.
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.
With his trademark spectacles (credited with influencing Superman, Cary Grant’s character in Bringing Up Baby, and even Harry Potter), Lloyd had always played his Glasses Character’s studious appearance against his incongruous propensity for action. In Grandma’s Boy and in later films, he plays a sympathetic underdog who is too timid to stand up for himself and is picked on and put down until something happens that inspires him with the confidence to face his troubles.
In Grandma’s Boy, even Harold’s feisty grandmother is tougher than he is, and it’s ultimately she who helps him find his courage, with a tale of his grandfather in the Civil War (played in flashback by Lloyd himself) and the introduction of a magic feather-like McGuffin.
Grandma’s Boy now has the distinction of being the first Lloyd silent comedy released on DVD, on the misleadingly titled one-disk “Harold Lloyd Collection” — really only a number of short subjects and this one feature. This “Harold Lloyd Collection” is part of the “Slapstick Symposium” series, which also includes collections of short subjects from Stan Laurel and Charley Chase.
Grandma’s Boy is thus the only feature-length film so far included in the “Slapstick Symposium” — an apparently odd choice, since its somewhat tacked-on comedy makes it one of the least slapstick films in Lloyd’s oeuvre. However, it’s not a bad introduction to one of Hollywood’s most neglected all-time greats, and it’s wonderful to see the “third genius” of silent comedy (along with Chaplin and Keaton) finally start to come to DVD.
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.
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.