Archive for Never Weaken

The Sunday Intertitle: Backstreet Osteopath

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on September 5, 2021 by dcairns

I thought it was worth peeking in on Harold Lloyd to see what he was up to just as Chaplin was gearing up to make THE KID. Well, he’d discovered the skyscraper: NEVER WEAKEN begins with Harold and Mildred Davis getting engaged by fishing rod, each leaning from the window of a separate high-rise office. It makes for a formally inventive start: wide shots of city, close-up of ring dangling and hand reaching, then the two-shot that explains how this all relates.

When Harold’s boss catches him in his remote flirtation, there’s a rare effects shot — well, actually, just a painted backdrop showing the girders of the building under construction next door. Lloyd would duly become known for avoiding any apparent fakery, and we’ll shortly see some more convincing scenery captured in the by-now well-known technique of building a set on the roof of a building, to provide an authentic up-high backdrop.

Harold discovering his boss’s presence when his foot, swaying in the air as he lies on his stomach, is almost exactly like Jackie Coogan discovering the kop behind him when he draws his hand back to throw a rock.

The Universal Language of Schtick.

Were French windows really a thing in office blocks? These characters are already showing a daringness regarding vertiginous heights that I would falter at.

Mildred’s boss is a Chaplin actor, Scotland’s own William Gillespie!

Harold has very much discovered his young-man-on-the-go mode. Here, it’s surprisingly crooked: going out with a tumbler to stage fake accidents to drum up trade for Mildred’s osteopath boss. It’s essentially a snake-oil sales pitch. and, when you think about it, Harold’s Young American archetype is somewhere in line with the P.T. Barnum/Thomas Edison arch-capitalist.

The trick is amusing, but when it does wrong it’s even funnier, in a grotesque sort of way: a mistaken-identity gag causes Harold to try his phony bone doctor act on a genuinely unconscious man. Unable to rouse the concussed pedestrian, he does the next best thing, faking up a recovery by puppeteering the comatose yet oddly rigid victim.

Can’t establish who that jug-eared unconcho actor is, but he’s awfully good.

Separated from his tumbler-accomplice (we should all have one), Harold resorts to actually injuring randos himself, or causing them to be injured, drumming up business by leaving the osteo’s card in the benumbed fingers of each fallen mark. Now we see the violence inherent in the system. Is this much different from Charlie’s window-breaking/repair business in THE KID? You might say that Lloyd’s scheme is motivated by romantic yearning and therefore more sympathetic, but Chaplin’s is motivated by the simple need to survive. Also, Charlie’s vandalism and fraud are enacted in a more plodding, solemn, less exuberant way: survival is a fairly grim business, and Chaplin doesn’t strike me as being so damn keen on it. Though the kops menacing him are dramatic foes, his victims are notably sympathetic, poor people like himself. So Charlie is stuck in the capitalist system, which is miserable, and he maintains his optimism by operating outside the law and using his creativity, whereas Harold seems like an embodiment of that system.

Like a lot of comedy shorts of the time (most of the Arbuckle-Keatons, certainly), NEVER WEAKEN falls into two halves, kickstarting a fresh plot midway, cueing the skyscraper business via an artfully contrived heartbreak-suicide plot.

I love how Mildred’s portrait gets a halo from an upturned hat.

Harold obsessing over the correct spelling of his suicide note is also very good.

When he’s contemplating falling on his letter-spike, Harold’s rubber glove which replaces his missing fingers is more noticeable than I’ve seen before, though when he pricks his index finger it’s naturally his real one.

Ruthless as ever, Harold rigs up a Heath Robinson/Rube Goldberg infernal contraption which will implicate an innocent visitor in his death — a string looped round the office doorknob is to trigger the pistol aimed at his heart. Of course farce-plotting intervenes to save our hero, but also to place him in serious peril.

Seen in the light of Harold’s later human fly stuff, this sequence always seemed just TOO SHORT to me. With the same director, Fred Newmeyer, Lloyd would soon explore just how prolonged he could make this kind of situation, finding to his great profit (but eventual stereotyping) that the longer you could extend the suspense, the more you could get out of it.

Incidentally, the building Harold uses here is the same one Keaton must have shot on for THE THREE AGES.