Archive for Harold Lloyd

Streets Behind

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 5, 2020 by dcairns

In Pordeone Silent Film Fest’s first shorts collection, we saw travel films of foreign parts, including Krakow. And now locations wizard John Bengston has matched three of the views to their contemporary equivalents.

Hmm, Poland needs more trees. Well, we all do.

Yes, 1929 versus 2020, it’s all about the trees.

John’s current project deserves your attention: there’s an alleyway in LA with a curious and romantic history. This alleyway deserves a name to match its incredible cinematic heritage. I’ll let John explain:

John writes more about silent movie locations here.

Also enjoyed at Pordenone: the amazing 65mm Bioscope films, whose large-format clarity astonishes. I hope these will become more widely available, they are the closest thing to time travel you can have without a tachyon drive.

The Sunday Intertitle: Measles

Posted in FILM with tags , , on May 24, 2020 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2020-05-24-16h11m20s156From THE MARATHON, a 1919 Harold Lloyd short. I guess it was too soon to be making flu jokes, but the measles was fair game.

This is a good one: Lloyd seems to have his “glasses” character well in hand. Though there’s a disappointing amount of dwarf-slapping, Harold himself doesn’t indulge in it, and the filmmakers (including director Alf Goulding) are careful to show him patting a cute puppy in his first shot.

And his introductory title is a magnificent definition of the Lloyd persona:

Diddlebocking Around

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2020 by dcairns

“Have I ever seen THE SIN OF HAROLD DIDDLEBOCK?” asked Fiona. I serve as her backup memory bank for these things, though she remembers the music and TV stuff.

“Only halfway,” I said. Because I recalled her being blown away by the first half and then abruptly tuning out, around the part Preston Sturges, the film’s writer-director, lost interest himself. (He laboured intensively over writing the first half, then finished in a day or two, according to his secretary.)

My friend and occasional co-writer Alex never finished it either, and when the subject is raised he gets traumatic flashbacks of Jimmy Conlin screaming “AAAARGH MISTER DIDDLEBOCK!” which to be fair there is quite a bit of. We can generally agree that it was a mistake to stage another skyscraper sequence, and to do it in a studio with unconvincing process shots.

It’s quite a weird sequence, filmed with some very nice crane movements to begin with, but with the outside world excluded, so we’re looking flat-on at a building frontage and there’s no sense whatever of being high up.

Fiona was talking about how misjudged the routine was, and I reminded her that she had been laughing hysterically at Harold dangling from a lion’s leash. “Only because it was so stupid,” she said. But that’s the point. Sturges wanted to alternate high and low comedy in all his stuff, hence all those pratfalls. He even has Veronica Lake praise a John L. Sullivan picture for its stupidity. “Oh, it was stupid, but it was wonderful.”

Worth reading all the way through.

Jimmy Conlin actually wakes up screaming, himself the victim of a traumatic flashback, in the next scene. In this he is reprising Barbara Stanwyck’s shriek in THE LADY EVE. Sturges’s characters are not only put through hell, they suffer PTSD.

I’m curious to see the MAD WEDNESDAY, Howard Hughes’ alternate version, which is apparently longer and features not only Hughes interpolations such as a talking horse, but maybe Sturges deletions. You can spot moments in the shorter version which don’t quite make sense, with characters assumed to know things they haven’t been told, and it’s clear Sturges chopped bits out because he wasn’t altogether happy. The collaboration with Lloyd was MORE trouble-strewn than that with Hughes.

“I could make you a very attractive offer.”

“You couldn’t make me an attractive offer, not if you got down on your bended knee and threw in a set of dishes.”

The IMDb lists Al Bridge’s morose ringmaster as “Wild Bill Hicock,” but he’s actually referred to by Conlin as “Wild Bill Hitchcock,” which is funnier.

There’s often a cynical edge to Sturges’s happy endings. (Spoilers, unavoidably, follow.) Usually this comes as a result of the plot twists which precipitate them being utterly unbelievable, but having been “established” in surreptitious manner early one — THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK smuggles its get-out clause in via the title and the opening pre-credits/credits/post-credits non-linear McGinty cameo, THE PALM BEACH STORY likewise slips its comedy-of-errors sub-sub-sub-plot in while the titles are still rolling, and HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO pulls off its jubilant fade-out by making its entire population fundamentally stupid (it worked in THE MUSIC MAN too, and may not be so much of a stretch.)

The later films are darker. It’s possible to read the ecstatic last scene of UNFAITHFULLY YOURS as delusional, and imagine that Linda Darnell is in fact cheating on Sexy Rexy, is, in fact, playing a proper Linda Darnell role. And there’s a slight oddness and offness to THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND (OK, a lot of oddness & offness) — Betty Grable has been impersonating a seemingly dead schoolmarm. I was fully expecting the teacher to turn up alive and well, because (a) this would clear up a wholly inappropriate note of tragedy and (b) it would make things hot for Grable. But it never happens. The poor educator is really deceased.

TSOHD has an ending that’s REALLY cynical. The problem energizing our hero in the film’s last section is what to do with a circus he’s purchased in a drunken haze. He can’t afford to run it, but nobody wants to buy it, or even accept it as a gift. Harold gets the idea of a FREE circus for all the poor children in town. It’s a dream he’s always had. He can get a rich banker to run the show, because everybody hates bankers and this would be great positive publicity.

But that’s not what happens. What happens is that the Ringling Bros. buy the circus to PREVENT a competitive free circus stealing their trade. Harold gives up his childhood dream with nary a backward glance, even though the bankers are all clamouring for a chance to prove they’re not all meanies. The Ringling Bros. offer more dough, so that’s that.

In the breathless frenzy of a typical Sturges conclusion there’s no time to linger on this sour note, of course. But it inescapably flavours one’s impression of the film as THE END (with or without a talking horse) superimposes itself. And may have contributed more than its share to the film’s underperformance and enduring lack of popularity. After all, Harold Lloyd has always been an icon of go-getting, energetic, ultimately masterful American will-to-success, always offered to the audience as an unironic winner in whatever dramatic situation he’s placed in, emerging on top of the heap and with the girl on his arm. Having already undermined the movie’s romance with bitter glee (Miss Otis is merely the latest in an endless stream of sisters), Sturges now makes his hero at least a bit of a money-grubbing louse. How did this escape Lloyd, Hughes, and the other supposed grown-ups? (I use the term… wrongly.) Did Lloyd have any inkling what he was doing to himself here?

THE SIN OF HAROLD DIDDLEBOCK stars Harold Lamb aka Speedy; Trusty; Mayor Everett J. Noble; John D. Hackensacker III; Officer Kennedy; Hortense O’Dare; J. Pinkerton Snoopington; Cornelius Cobb; Miss Gulch; A. Pismo Clam; Prof. Summerlee; Man in Talking Pictures Demonstration; The Mister; Hives – the Butler; Slave Girl; ‘Sourpuss’; J.J. King; Colored Porter; Ape Man; Snug – the Joiner; and the Masterblaster.