Archive for harold lloyd

Girl Shy (1924)

Posted in Dailies, Silent Film with tags , , , on June 16, 2009 by leclisse

Theatrical poster for Girl Shy (1924)Harold Meadows (Harold Lloyd) is an apprentice to his uncle, who is the town tailor in Little Bend, California.  Poor Harold has made it his life’s mission to study that most elusive of all species, women.  His problem, however, is that he develops a debilitating stutter if forced to interact with them.  He must content himself with observing from afar, and assembles his notes into a guide for the modern man called The Secret of Making Love.  Armed with the completed manuscript, Harold makes his way by train to the big city in order to sell his work to a publisher.  While on the train, however, Harold meets the adorable Mary Buckingham (Jobyna Ralston).  Harold saves Mary’s pet dog from being seized by the train conductor, and the two are obviously smitten.

When Harold finally arrives at the publisher, his manuscript falls into the hands of the office personnel, who find the whole idea of the guide to be uproarious fun.  The publisher doesn’t see the market potential in the book, and sends Harold away with his hopes shattered.  It is only after Harold’s departure that the publisher realizes the comic possibility of such a title, and sends him a check for $3,000 in advance royalties.  Meanwhile, Harold and Mary are in the haze of infatuation, and bump into each other once again.  Even though they are clearly smitten with one another, Harold is convinced that he is a nobody, undeserving of Mary’s love.  He pretends to lose interest in her, and Mary returns home, defeated, and agrees to marry the slimy Ronald De Vore (Carlton Griffith).  Unbeknownst to Mary, Ronald already has a wife that he keeps hidden away in Little Bend.

Harold Lloyd and Jobyna Ralston in Girl Shy (1924)Harold knows the woman who is Ronald’s wife, and the two of them happen to see a newspaper notice announcing Mary’s imminent marriage.  Horrified, Harold leaps into action and begins a lengthy chase scene when he frantically uses any means necessary (at one point comandeering an electric streetcar) to make his way to the Buckingham estate before it’s too late.  The wedding and the chase are shown one step at a time, each inching closer to the finale.  Harold leaps into the ceremony just before the priest is about to announce Mary and Ronald man and wife, and spirits Mary away in true “cave man” style.  Of course, all ends well for Harold and Mary.

Girl Shy is another delightful romp in the cannon of Lloyd films, and is his second pairing with Ralston.  Ralston came in as Lloyd’s choice to replace Mildred Davis as his recurring leading lady.  Their palpable chemistry produces a wonderful emotional depth that only adds to Girl Shy‘s appeal.  After some brief internet browsing, it does not seem that much is known about Ralston’s life.  She was born in South Pittburg, Tennessee in 1899 to stage struck parents who encouraged her to find a life on the stage.  After a brief stint on Broadway, comedian Max Linder convinced her to head West to Hollywood and carve out a career for herself in the burgeoning film industry.  By 1923, she achieved enough notice to be named one of that year’s selection of WAMPAS Baby Stars, an honor that Clara Bow would also go on to win in 1924.  With the WAMPAS award under her belt, she starred with Lloyd in Why Worry? that same year, which would be the first of their six feature-length pairings.

Jobyna RalstonPrivately, Ralston was married two times — the first to a childhood sweetheart, and the second to fellow actor Richard Arlen.  Ralston met Arlen on the set of Wings (1927), the classic WWI aviation spectacle co-starring Arlen, Clara Bow and Charles “Buddy” Rogers.  In Wings, Ralston plays Sylvia Lewis, the girl that both Arlen and Rogers pine for while ignoring Bow as the “girl next door.”  Ralston and Arlen had only one child together, future actor Richard Arlen, Jr.  Ralston ended her film career by 1930 after making only two talkies because she had a noticeable lisp.  She and Arlen finally divorced in 1945, and for the next 22 years she suffered from chronic rheumatism and (later) a series of strokes.  She died at the Motion Picture Country Home in 1967 at the age of 67.

Safety Last! (1923)

Posted in Dailies, Silent Film with tags , , on June 14, 2009 by leclisse

TCM had a line-up of Harold Lloyd films fairly recently, and I caught about 30 minutes of Girl Shy (1924) before having to head off to work that morning.  I had never seen a Harold Lloyd film before, but immediately I was intrigued.  Harold Lloyd was the most famous male comedian during the silent era, selling far more tickets than either Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton had managed to do.  Yet today it is Keaton and Chaplin who are remembered and revered, not Lloyd.  Part of this neglect no doubt has to do with the fact that Lloyd held on to copyright control of his films after retirement.  He refused to rerelease them to theaters because he did not want them to be accompanied by a pianist; theaters were just not equipped with organists anymore.  In addition to this preference, Lloyd charged $300,000 for a double showing of one of his films on television, which inevitably closed the door on his films for a large segment of the public.  Good thing most of his films are now remastered and available on DVD.

Davis and Lloyd in Safety Last! (1923)Safety Last! concerns a young man, Harold (Harold Lloyd), who goes to the big city in order to make enough money to marry his sweetheart, Mildred (Mildred Davis, Lloyd’s future wife).  Harold is unable to make a big break, however, and gives his all to a job as a floor clerk in a department store.  He faithfully writes to dear Mildred back home, but takes pains to create the impression that he is far more successful that his circumstances actually merit.  This charade is easy enough to maintain through the mail, but things get a bit more difficult when Mildred decides to take a trip to the city and visit Harold at work.  Harold is just barely able to keep his head above water when he pretends to order around his coworkers and occupy the boss’s office just long enough to satisfy Mildred’s curiosity.

Just as Harold begins to despair over the lack of money that Mildred will most certainly realize, he overhears the store manager trying to think up a gimick to get more customers in the store.  “I’ll give someone $1,000 to think of a way…” he remarks, which grabs Harold by the shirt collar.  He runs to hash out a plan with his roommate, who just happens to scale tall buildings for fun.  Harold offers to split the money if his roommate (Bill Strother) will agree to climb up the side of the department store to the roof.  He enthusiastically agrees, but the day of the stunt finds the two in some hot water.  It seems that Bill has gotten on the wrong side of the police officer who is heading crowd control at the site of the stunt.  He tells Harold that he’ll have to climb up a few floors himself, until he can lose the furious cop. 

Theatrical poster for Safety Last! (1923)What follows is one of the most famous sequences in silent film.  The clocktower sequence had me so nervous that my palms were actually sweating.  Apparently, the wall that Harold is climbing was actually built on the roof of a skyscraper, and then photographed so as to maintain the illusion of perilous height.  Whatever the authenticity of Lloyd’s stuntwork, each floor is a grueling ordeal.  He must deal with a flock of pigeons, a snarling dog, his own vertigo, and slippery step after slippery step.  The physicality of Lloyd’s comedy lends itself spectacularly to this scene, and his athleticism is astonishing.  I’m not much for slapstick, but Loyd is able to transcend the crudeness of completely physical comedy and meld it into a more subtle product, much as Buster Keaton does so splendidly in his own films.  The final result will keep me coming back for more.