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New Line Home Cinema presents
The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection Volume 1 (Safety Last / Girl Shy / The Cat's Paw / The Milky Way / Why Worry?) (1919-1936)

"You'll have to go one more floor—till I ditch the cop."
- Limping Bill (Bill Strother), Safety Last!

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: November 15, 2005

Stars: Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Bebe Daniels, Jobyna Ralston, Una Merkel, George Barbier, Adolphe Menjou, Verree Teasdale, Johan Aasen
Other Stars: Bill Strother, Noah Young, Westcott B. Clarke, Snub Pollard, Richard Daniels, Carlton Griffin, Peggy Courtwright, Helen Mack, Willaim Gargan, Dorothy Wilson, Lionel Stander
Director: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor, Hal Roach, Alfred J. Goulding, Leo McCarey

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (ethnic humor, ethnic slurs, brief disturbing imagery, gore)
Run Time: 07h:48m:11s
Release Date: November 15, 2005
UPC: 794043844621
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AB+B B+

DVD Review

Harold Lloyd is best known today for the handful of amazing thrill comedies that he did for the Roach studios and independently in the early 1920s. The centerpiece of this first volume of Harold Lloyd 'Glasses' comedies, authorized by the Lloyd Estate, is the most famous of these thrill comedies, Safety Last!, the source that iconic shot of Harold dangling high above the streets of Los Angeles from a clock face. If a person knows anything about Lloyd, it's that still. But there's much more to his comedy than just that. These films (five features and three shorts) allow one to start with the most famous sequence and to get a taste for his other work as well.

In Safety Last! (1923), Harold has left the small town of Great Bend for the big city, deceiving his sweetheart (Mildred Davis, in her last of numerous Lloyd films) into believing that he's an executive at the De Vore department store, when in fact he's a lowly shopclerk in the dry goods department. When she shows up expecting him to have enough money to get married, Harold is put into desperate straits. Overhearing the general manager say he'd give a thousand dollars for a stunt to draw people, Harold remembers his roommate Bill (Bill Strother) is something of a human fly, and lays claim to the money, with Bill promising to do the climb for half of the money. But when a cop pursues Bill, Harold has no choice but to begin the climb himself, leading to one of the great suspense comedy sequences of all time that has audiences simultaneously gasping and roaring with laughter.

Although the climactic climb is the famous part of the film, the lengthy setup is quite ingenious, with numerous gags that depend on perfect timing and Harold using his wits to foil his foes such as the cop (Noah Young) and Harold's martinet of a floorwalker, Mr. Stubbs (Westcott B. Clarke). There's humor in Harold's deceptions too, such as a clever gag that has him spending his entire paycheck on a gift for Mildred; as he lays down the dimes one by one, he sees plates vanishing from a 'businessman's lunch' that he had set his heart on. But the best bit is the climb itself, which manages not to duplicate the previous climbs and to get Harold into all sorts of nerve-wracking predicaments high above the ground. I won't reveal how the filming was accomplished (the commentary will tell you if you really want to know), but suffice it to say that Lloyd really was 14 stories above the ground and the city streets you see in the background were not rear projection or optical effects. It's a bravura piece of filmmaking that richly deserves its fame.

Getting back down to the ground, and the year 1920, Harold goes west in The Eastern Westerner, a two-reel comedy for Roach (also found on Kino's Slapstick Symposium volume 1 of Lloyd's films). One usually thinks of the Glasses character as being shabby middle class, but here he's a scion of the upper crust given to partying and staying out too late. His parents, irritated at his conduct, send him out to his uncle's ranch in Piute Pass, where he runs afoul of the local bully (Noah Young) and his terrorist gang of masked riders. Harold is soon in hot water, involved in a fracas with Noah and losing at a game of cards (though to be fair, he did cheat himself so in a way he deserves what's coming to him). Mildred is the object of Noah's affections, and Harold wants to help her rescue her father from Noah's clutches. This short film doesn't have a lot of the grace or subtlety that marks Lloyd's later films, but tends to rely more on straight slapstick humor.

Ask Father (1919) features Lloyd's first principal leading lady, Bebe Daniels, and is notable for the inclusion of his first (albeit brief) building climb. Harold here is one of a multitude of suitors of the daughter of a businessman, but she keeps turning everyone away with the demand that they ask father. That's easier said than done, since he's surrounded by guards and clerks, including secretary Bebe. But the costume shop next door gives Harold some ideas. This one-reeler is pretty cute, though its short duration doesn't give it much of a chance to develop. There's the central gag line, and that's about it, though there are some creative bits including a moving treadmill that makes life difficult for Harold. Bebe is very charming in this picture, and it's easy to see why she was popular both with audiences and Lloyd.

The 1924 feature Girl Shy finds Lloyd as Harold Meadows, stammering tailor's assistant. Never having kissed a girl, and in fact terrified of them, he has instead chosen to write a book on The Secret of Making Love, a how-to guide for conquering the heart of any woman. When he goes to submit his manuscript to a publisher, he helps out wealthy Mary Buckingham (Jobyna Ralston, who would also appear with Lloyd in Hot Water in 1924 and The Freshman in 1925), rescuing her dog, and the two of them find a mutual attraction. Harold's book is a laughingstock, however, and since he feels he is no longer worthy of Mary, he tries to be callous and breaks her heart. But upon learning that her response is to marry rival Ronald DeVore (Carlton Griffin), Harold rushes to the rescue in a spectacular gag sequence that parodies the 'race to the rescue' intercutting of D.W. Griffith and others.

Harold's race is far from straightforward; every conveyance he tries gives him grief, and he ends up stealing every kind of transportation possible in order to stop the wedding, including a police motorcycle and a Los Angeles streetcar. In later life Lloyd regretted using the device of the stutter, but as it is it forms an integral part of the plot; Harold can't communicate what he's trying to say, making the race a necessity. It's a fun picture, with a couple of classic fantasy sequences as Harold writes his magnum opus. There are some beautiful and touching moments too, such as when Harold sits in a rowboat under a bridge; Mary walks across and looks in the water, seeing her reflection, but since he's seeing her everywhere, he doesn't recognize that she's really there. The film has a bit of a slow start but by the finale it's racing along at a breakneck pace that offers quite a few laughs.

From Hand to Mouth (1920) features Harold in Chaplin territory, anticipating The Kid. Lloyd is a tramp starving on the street, with the aid of a little waif (Peggy Courtwright). Meanwhile, new romantic interest Mildred Davis has to get proofs of her right to inherit under a will by midnight and Snub is hired to kidnap her. Mildred helps Harold out when he unintentionally passes some counterfeit cash, but he's soon pursued by the police, leading to some entertaining manhole gags. When Mildred falls into Snub's clutches, Harold can't find a cop at all, until he finds more than he wants in a veritable police stampede that looks like a dry run for Keaton's Cops. The scenes in which Snub and his gang are skulking about are properly tinted blue to represent night here; the Kino version omitted the tinting and made it look like they were out in broad daylight. Bebe Daniels had left Roach at the end of 1919 to join Paramount, and Mildred Davis made a good substitute, with a pleasant demeanor and Mary Pickford curls. She would be Lloyd's leading lady in all his films through 1923 and he would marry her in real life as well shortly after the release of Safety Last!.

Disc Two is a DVD-14, housing two features on side A and a third feature on side B. Side A features two of Lloyd's sound features from the 1930s. The first, The Cat's-Paw (1934) is a weird political comedy that features Lloyd as Ezekiel Cobb (making this the first film in which he didn't go under the name 'Harold'), son of a Chinese missionary who returns to his hometown of Stockport, California. He runs into mobster Jake Mayo (George Barbier), who sees him as a perfect puppet candidate for mayor on the Reform ticket, guaranteed to lose. But things go wrong and Ezekiel finds himself not only elected but determine to clean up crime in the city. Where things get really weird is when he uses Chinese philosophy to arrive at the conclusion that he should round up all the criminals in town and execute them all with summary beheadings.

The politics of the film make it a real head-scratcher. In one respect it seems like a prototype for Capra's political comedies such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but on the other hand it seems to openly embrace Mussolini-style fascism, displaying zero faith in democracy's ability to deal with corruption and the criminal element. Lloyd does accurately capture the appeal to the voting public of a candidate socking someone on the nose rather than any high-minded interest in good government. What little humor comes across in the film is mostly the result of the utter naïvété of Ezekiel, hapless in his inexperience with American life, culture and technology. One of the more memorable examples of this is his appearance at a nightclub and inadvertently helping the singer disrobe. Lloyd had concluded from the poor box office performance of Movie Crazy that audiences no longer had interest in the Glasses character as he was in the '20s, but his turn as Ezekiel Cobb is hardly a good substitute (even though the familiar tortoise-shell glasses are firmly in place).

The Milky Way (1936) is a return to form and the more traditional Glasses character. Lloyd stars as Burleigh Sullivan, a mild-mannered milkman who accidentally knocks out the middleweight champ, Speed McFarland (William Gargan) when he drunkenly harasses Burleigh's sister Mae (Helen Mack, of The Son of Kong). McFarland's manager, Gabby Sloan (Adolphe Menjou) sees the possibilities in a fighting milkman and convinces Burleigh to take up boxing, thanks to his talent for ducking, learned from dodging bullies as a youngster. What Burleigh doesn't understand, however, is that the fights are being fixed for him.

This film almost didn't exist any more, making its inclusion here quite welcome. The film was remade in 1946 as The Kid from Brooklyn as a vehicle for Danny Kaye; as a condition of the rights purchase all prints of The Milky Way were supposed to be destroyed, and they all were except for Lloyd's personal nitrate print. Thankfully it survived, since it's easily one of Lloyd's funniest talkies. In addition to Lloyd being able to use his talents for physical comedy, he's helped along by a splendid cast, a solid script and a talented comic director, Leo McCarey. Things snap along at a brisk pace, with plenty of gags and verbal sparring in addition to the physical elements. Menjou is quite entertaining, being cast against type, and the lugs (Gargan and Lionel Stander) are hilarious in their own rights; even when Lloyd's not onscreen the picture manages to be more than funny.

Side B of the second disc goes back to the silents, with Why Worry (1923), the followup to Safety Last!. Lloyd stars as rich hypochondric Harold Von Pelham, who travels to the island of Paradiso for his health, along with his pretty nurse (Jobyna Ralston, in the first of six films as his co-star). But the island is under revolution sparked by dastardly Jim Blake (James Mason, but not the famous one). Complicating things is Harold's impression that the revolt is a performance being put on for his entertainment. When he does catch on to the fact of the matter, he teams with gigantic Colosso (Johan Aasen, a real eight-foot giant) and his nurse to try to restore order.

It's a rip-roaring classic, with the gags coming in rapid-fire form, from short throwaways (a bearded old man snoozes in a corner covered by cobwebs) to the oddball (Lloyd practicing dentistry on the giant with the help of a textbook) to the elaborate (a Beau Geste style faking of an army). Even though his character starts off in a fairly unflattering way, Lloyd demonstrates good development through the short (63m) running time and one can hardly fault the nurse for finding him appealing by the finale. Although it's not as well known as Lloyd's thrill comedies, it's every bit as funny.

The inclusion of five classic features and three shorts running nearly eight hours makes this set an excellent value for the entertainment dollar. Of course, the full four-disc set at a reduced price from the cost of the three separately-available volumes is an even better deal.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The Lloyd estate undertook a major restoration of Harold's films over the last few years, and the results really show. The films still have a little wear, not surprising for pictures 70-80 years old but they have plenty of clarity and excellent greyscale. Artificial sharpening and edge enhancement are not noticeable at all. Unfortunately, New Line dropped the ball at the goal line, apparently failing to flag Safety Last! and Why Worry? correctly for progressive playback on flag-reading DVD players. Whatever the cause, the result is serious combing throughout that may annoy some people and not be noticed at all by others. All the rest of the films appear to be fine, however.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno
DS 2.0(music only)yes


Audio Transfer Review: The silent films use scores prepared by Carl Davis and Robert Israel, with a small orchestra performing. They tend to be a little on the bombastic side, coming off almost like circus music, but they're certainly suitable enough for Lloyd's suspense comedies. The audio has good stereo separation and nice range. Girl Shy also features an alternate organ score that's more traditional in character, but it's uncredited. The sound films have a certain amount of hiss and noise, but really aren't bad at all for 1930s optical mono tracks.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 92 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Leonard Maltin and Richard Correll
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Production still galleries
Extras Review: Disc 1 (a dual layer, single-sided disc) features a production gallery with about two dozen stills, mostly from Safety Last!. More substantial is a full-length commentary from critic Leonard Maltin and Richard Correll, Lloyd's film curator. They deliver plenty of background information, identifying bit players and filling in the whos and hows of the great building climb sequence. It's conversational and sprightly while still being highly informative.

Disc 2 features two more small sets of production galleries, with eight stills in one and six in the other. There's also an interesting featurette (8m:46s) with Annette d'Agostino Lloyd that takes a tour of modern Los Angeles and shows the current version of numerous sites seen in Safety Last!, Girl Shy and other films. All of the films include Spanish subtitles; only the sound features include English subtitles.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

After far too long, the Harold Lloyd comedies are finally available on video again, in splendid editions, and this set makes a great place to start familiarizing yourself with one of the underrated greats of the silent film. Buy them before they disappear for decades again.

 


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