Movies 27 Jan 2008 08:17 am

Meet Harold Lloyd

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It’s always a treat to discover an artist you didn’t know existed, but whom you really enjoy, then find out that this person has a large body of work waiting for you to explore.

That’s how I feel about my discovery of Harold Lloyd, a comedian from the age of silent film. I was looking for examples of silent movies to show students in my film studies class when I came across a two-DVD collection of Lloyd’s work at Rodman Public Library.

Lloyd is the guy hanging from the clock in the photo above, arguably the most famous scene in silent cinema. The still is from the movie “Safety Last,” the centerpiece of the collection.

So far, I’ve watched two of the films in the set, “Ask Father” and “Safety Last.” The former I showed to the class; at 13 minutes, it’s a perfect introduction to silent films. Lloyd plays The Boy, dressed in a straw hat and round-lensed glasses (his trademarks), who wants desperately to win the approval of his girlfriend’s father, a busy executive. His attempts to win Dad over take so long, however, that the girl marries someone else.

Lloyd faces many pitfalls (one literally) in his attempts to muscle into the father’s office, including some thugs in the lobby and a treadmill that whisks him back out. The proceedings are set to a wonderful score that perfectly punctuates the action on screen.

This weekend, I watched the longer (73 min.) “Safety Last.” It has a similar set-up: Lloyd leaves his hometown to find fortune in the Big City; he will send for his girlfriend once he has saved enough money to marry her and settle down in comfort. He finds himself in a dead-end job in a department store and eventually has a brainstorm that involves his roommate scaling the 12-story building in exchange for splitting a $1,000 prize. Because of a run-in with the law, the roommate can’t perform the feat, and Lloyd finds himself climbing.

I’m impressed by how visually sophisticated these movies are. Title cards with dialogue are needed only in the opening scenes to establish the basic plot; from then on, they are used very sparingly, with the visuals telling the story. Multiple camera angles, great sight gags and strong acting propel the stories along. In the 1930s, because of the difficulties in using sound, movies became less fluid, less visual and more stage bound. Watching silents, by comparison, is a joy.  

Roger Ebert has a good article on “Safety Last” that explains why Lloyd’s films have only recently re-entered circulation. You can read it by clicking here.

The Lloyd DVDs I’ve been watching are part of a seven-disk collection of his work. If the rest of volume one is as entertaining as what I’ve seen so far, I’ll definitely look for the rest.

One Response to “Meet Harold Lloyd”

  1. on 29 Jan 2008 at 1.John Whitacre said …

    I learned about Harold Lloyd a couple years ago at a silent film showing at Akron Civic Theatre. The films were accompanied by a small ragtime orchestra from New York City that, if I remember correctly, played the original scores. Of the three films, Lloyd’s was far and away our favorite. Another good silent is “The General” starring Buster Keaton. It combines Civil War history with silent slapstick.

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