Just discovered another silent clown. Lloyd Hamilton was admired by Chaplin and Keaton but his career combusted in a welter of alcohol and violence.
You wouldn’t think it to look at him: Ham’s screen persona is rather diffident, with a fear of sex that recalls both Harry Langdon and Laurel & Hardy. He’s chubby, with a baby’s face that’s also a bit feminine. Seeing him feels like discovering the actual person that Peter Bull is a caricature of. Not particularly acrobatic (a stuntman seems to be employed for the tricky stuff here) he’s still a physically graceful actor, and his facial reactions are a delight.
Walter Kerr, the greatest of all writers on silent comedy, describes Hamilton thus ~ “a plumpish man with dainty fingers, a waddle for a walk, and a pancake hat set horizontally on the prim, doughy moon of his face,” which is bang on.
The striking weakness of this movie, which has several very strong sequences (the kittens!), is the total lack of structure. Most Laurel & Hardy films of the period had tight, farce plotting in which nothing was inessential but everything was presented as if it were throwaway. The Fatty Arbuckle films Buster Keaton starred in typically fell into two, rather unrelated halves. But this one is a triptych — Lloyd as hapless debt collector is followed by a misadventure with a woman (the only hint of story planning is the way she’s established at the start before she’s needed) and the adventure is rounded off with a Harold Lloyd type high-rise thrill sequence which has nothing to do with anything and which necessitates the invention of two chums for Lloyd — although why they’re actually necessary I’m not sure.
I don’t think the freeform approach is a deliberate choice — I assume that when you’re churning these films out on a weekly basis, the first draft of anything is good enough. When some of us sit down and write, what comes out has a kind of shape automatically, defective though it may be. This work was probably the product of competing gag men and whoever shouted loudest got their bit in the film. Not a sensible way to work, but the film has energy and some very big laughs and I want to see more of this Hamilton fellow.