The Sunday Intertitle: Silly


More Harold Lloyd. In NOW OR NEVER (1929) he hangs under a moving train and runs along the tracks, a feat accomplished in the studio (Lloyd wasn’t as addicted to suicidal risk-taking as Buster Keaton, despite all those carefully-prepared skyscraper-climbing scenes). The background is painted on a rotating screen so it can rush past, and the whole thing is furiously undercranked.

In a closeup, we see Harold’s head bobbing furiously as he’s forced to run at superhuman speed. I wondered what he would look like if I freeze-framed him. Harold is in fact head-banging as fast as he can, rather than nodding gently and allowing the accelerated-motion filming to do its work, so the answer to my question is: “Pretty weird.”






In fact, he looks like a series of Francis Bacon paintings. He’s moving too fast for the camera eye, and in some framesĀ the top of his head has been photographed in one position and the bottom in another, resulting in funhouse elongation. As if Harold were on the lip of a Black Hole, being sucked in and spaghettified. In other frames, Harold’s jacket and cap remain sharp, but his face has been erased, like the masked killer in BLOOD AND BLACK LACE or the laughing victim of Charlie X in Star Trek (which traumatised me as a child).


2 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Silly”

  1. Hoboes riding under freight cars turned up in assorted films, so I’m assuming it was a real-life thing despite the high level of danger. This 1903 advertisement/spoof references a print campaign for a railroad’s smokeless coal, which allowed Phoebe White to wear white on all her travels. At the very end two men in tuxedos emerge from under the train; either cheap tycoons or fastidious bums:

  2. Ha!

    Hundreds of people a year were killed by steam trains, and this must be one of the causes.

    Sleepy, I initially typed “steak train” just now. An evocative phrase.

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