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New Line Home Cinema presents
The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection Volume 2 (The Kid Brother/The Freshman/Dr. Jack/Feet First/Grandma's Boy) (1919-1930)

"I'm just a regular fellow; step right up and call me Speedy."
- Harold Lamb (Harold Lloyd) in The Freshman

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: December 06, 2005

Stars: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Bebe Daniels, Snub Pollard, Mildred Davis, Barbara Kent, Anna Townsend
Other Stars: walter James, Leo Willis, Olin Francis, Constantine Romanoff, Ralph Yearsley, Helen Gilmore, Brooks Benedict, James Anderson, Hazel Keener, Joseph Harrington, Pat Harmon, John T. Prince, Eric Mayne, C. Norman Hammond, Robert McWade, Lilianne Leighton, Henry Hall, Noah Young, Willie Best, Charles Stevenson, Dick Sutherland, Anna Mae Bilson, Roy Brooks, wallace Howe
Director: Ted Wilde, Hal Roach, Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor, Clyde Bruckman

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (comic violence, racial stereotyping)
Run Time: 07h:46m:24s
Release Date: November 15, 2005
UPC: 794043844720
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AA-A- B+

DVD Review

This second volume in New Line's set of Harold Lloyd's films includes five features and four short films, with several of Lloyd's best among their number.

First up is a comedy that has developed a well-deserved reputation in recent years, The Kid Brother (1927). Placed in a rural setting, Harold is the youngest of the three Hickory boys, sons of Sheriff Jim Hickory (Walter James). While the rest of the men of the family are Manly Men, Harold is something of a milquetoast and a laughingstock. When Mary Powers (Jobyna Ralston) and her late father's medicine show come to town, Harold quickly falls for her, inspiring the jealousy of Hank Hooper (Ralph Yearsley). Giant Sandoni (Constantine Romanoff) has it in for Harold, who foiled his attempts to molest Mary, and so a plan is conceived to steal the money Jim is safeguarding to fund construction of a new dam, and frame him for the crime. It's up to Harold to save the day by retrieving the money and clearing his father's name, if he can.

This picture is chock-full of inspired sight gags, such as Harold's clever labor-saving tricks for washing dishes and laundry. His relationship with Jobyna is quite sweet and there's a particularly engaging sequence as she departs from him in the woods; he climbs a tree ever higher to keep her in sight, and the camera rises with him to the very heights of the tree. The finale is an extended sequence in which Harold tries to outsmart Sandoni, incorporating the monkey that would make another memorable appearance opposite Buster Keaton in 1928's The Cameraman. This is a film that benefits greatly from the presence of a crowd; at theatrical showings the audience is typically roaring throughout; it loses a bit in the translation to the small screen, so it's best viewed if you can assemble a group.

Bumping Into Broadway (1919) finds Harold as a would-be screenwriter opposite Bebe Daniels. Scraping by for cash, Harold gives his last money to Bebe to pay her rent, and then spends much of the rest of the first reel trying to evade the battleaxe landlady (Helen Gilmore) and her thugs. The second reel, which feels like it has little to do with the first, includes a funny sequence in which Harold accidentally wins a fortune on a roulette wheel in a gambling house just as it's about to be raided by the police. The finale is a chase by the police through the house in fine slapstick tradition. Snub Pollard, a frequent costar in Lloyd's one- and two-reel films, appears as the musical comedy director who Harold is trying to convince to read his play. This was the first two-reel comedy to feature Lloyd's Glass Character; he had previously made some two-reel Lonesome Luke films but most of those were lost in a fire in Lloyd's archive. It's a brisk little piece, with beautiful decorative intertitles.

One of the best-known of Lloyd's features is the 1925 college comedy, The Freshman. Harold is enthusiastic about his first year at Tate College, and wants to be the most popular fellow on campus, emulating his movie hero. Unfortunately for him, he comes off as a complete boob and the butt of everyone's jokes, thanks in part to a little jig he does whenever he meets anyone new, among other oddities. He quickly spends himself into a hole trying to ingratiate others, including holding a Fall Frolic dance at which he appears in a merely-basted suit that comes apart in various inventive ways as his tailor (Joseph Harrington) madly tries to keep him together. Aiming to be on the football team, he is relegated to duty as the waterboy and the tackling dummy. But in the process he does manage to win the heart of Peggy, his landlady's daughter (Joyna Ralston).

Although much of Lloyd's comedy features are character-driven, The Freshman really takes this tendency to a new level. Nearly all of the humor is based on the interaction of Harold's character (tellingly surnamed 'Lamb' in this outing) with the various bullies and swelled heads that populate the campus (such as those played by Brooks Benedict, James Anderson and Hazel Keener). Even though some of the others (notably Benedict) look a bit long in the tooth to be playing college students, Lloyd manages to pull it off, at age 31, through sheer exuberance. Although Lloyd's chemistry with Ralston was always good, it's at a peak here, with some heart-breaking sequences as she can't bear to tell him that everyone considers him a buffoon, and his collapse before her when he finally realizes the truth. While Chaplin gets all the credit for combining comedy with pathos, he never does it as well as Lloyd does in this film. The climactic football game has some predictable elements (at least in hindsight) but it's also full of highly inventive comic situtations that are funny in their sheer nerve. Most incredibly, Lloyd did all the plays without a stunt man, against the real USC football team.

One of the more interesting one-reel films featuring the Glass Character is Billy Blazes, Esq. (1919). This parody of the Westerns popular at the time finds Lloyd as the title character, essentially the William S. Hart role of righting wrongs and helping out the local sheriff, Gun-Shy Gallagher (Snub Pollard) and rescuing young Nell (Bebe Daniels) from the clutches of villainous Pistol Pete. It's more violent than any other Lloyd film, but it's pretty good-hearted. Lloyd in particular gets to show off some fancy gun work as he keeps multiple bad guys at bay, and finds clever ways of dealing with mounted villains (including pushing over their horses).

The first side of Disc 2 presents two feature films, Lloyd's third silent feature, Dr. Jack (1922), and his second sound feature, Feet First (1930). Dr. Jack refers to Lloyd's character, Dr. Harold Jackson, who is beloved but single. Mildred Davis co-stars as "The Sick Little Well Girl," who is kept a virtual prisoner thanks to Dr. Ludwig von Saulsbourg (Eric Mayne), who insists she is very ill and needs to be kept far from any excitement. When Dr. Jack is brought in as a consultant, he recognizes that she is not sick at all, but Saulsbourg's superior credentials get him dismissed. The presence of an escaped lunatic in the area gives him an opportunity both to see the girl and to help her condition by getting some excitement into her life.

After the character comedy of Grandma's Boy (1922), this feels like a step backward since it is pretty much straight gag writing. So much time is spent on establishing Dr. Jack's bedside manner that by the time he gets to Mildred Davis (about halfway in) the viewer finds him to be rather insufferable. The gags featuring Harold pretending to be the escaped lunatic are fairly predictable, but things are paced fast and furious. There are some very nice reveals using mirrors that display the artistry that is a constant in Lloyd's features.

Feet First is the last of Lloyd's five thrill comedies. This time out he's Harold Horne, Honolulu shoe salesman for the Tanner Shoe Co. He meets Barbara (Barbara Kent), secretary to the president of the company, John Quincy Tanner (Robert McWade), but Harold believes that she's his daughter. He therefore embarks on a quest to impress her as a magnate even though he's dead broke. He stows away on a ship to the mainland in order to accompany her and her father. Discovery and pursuit leads him to hiding in a mail bag and eventually getting stuck climbing what appears to be one of the same buildings used in Safety Last.

Unlike Safety Last, where Harold voluntarily, albeit reluctantly, climbed the building, here he's thrust into the situation. The comparison of the two sequences is intriguing, since sound seems to detract from the comedy and make it into more of a suspense film than anything; the stoicism of the 1923 climb is replaced by pathetic cries of "Help me!", which hardly do the comedy any favors. But there are certainly some great comedic moments during the climb. They're spoiled a bit by a stereotyped racial presentation of the janitor Jocko (Willie Best, billed as Sleep N Eat, which should give the general idea of the role he's stuck with). Even at age 37, Lloyd has displays terrific athleticism during this sequence, and it's a good finale to the group of films. What goes before, unfortunately, feels completely tacked on and rather arbitrary, unlike Safety Last, where the story really bloomed into the building climb. Barbara Kent is rather drab (certainly no substitute for Jobyna Ralston or Mildred Davis) and uninteresting as a leading lady. The humor is pretty thin until the building climb, with the unfortunate tendency of early talkies to spend far too much running time talking, which is antithetical to Lloyd's comedy.

The second side of Disc 2 covers three more pictures. Grandma's Boy (1922) is the first of Lloyd's great features. Harold is a timid soul who lives with his grandma (the diminuitive Anna Townsend). While he's sweet on Mildred, his rival (Charles Stevenson) is something of a bully and continually humiliates Harold, dropping him in a well amongst other antics. When a tramp (Dick Sutherland) kills two men robbing the jewelry store, a posse forms to catch him, and Harold is deputized. Hiding in his bed, Harold is told of how his grandfather was a similar timid soul during the Civil War, until he was given a magic Zuni talisman. Grandma produces that very talisman, and Harold has no choice but to face his fears.

Grandma's Boy is one of the best-constructed of all Lloyd's films; hardly a gag goes by that isn't derived directly from the characters or the story line. It's economically told as well, so that there's hardly a dull moment. At the same time, it's quite funny throughout, with the elaborate Civil War flashback being a highlight: Lloyd plays his own grandfather, complete with square-rimmed spectacles and sideburns, using his talents to both remind one of the younger man and to also the two distinct characters. The interaction between Lloyd and Stevenson is particularly entertaining. Composer Robert Israel has some fun with the climactic sequence, combining the strains of My Old Kentucky Home with the orchestration and motifs of Elmer Bernstein's theme for The Great Escape.

Now or Never (1921) was Lloyd's first three-reel comedy, a transition phase between the one- and two-reelers that he had done both as Lonesome Luke and the Glass Character, and the feature films. In this picture, Harold has promised Mildred that he will come to marry her on her 18th birthday, which approaches. Mildred is a nanny for a little girl, Mary (Anna Mae Bilson), who is ignored by her parents, and Mildred decides to bring the child along. But Mary's father is spotted by Mildred at the train station, boarding the same train, so she hurriedly puts Mary in Harold's charge. One expects and gets the standard raft of train travel jokes, including sleeping berth comedy and communal bathroom humor, as well as the discomfort of having to take care of a little girl out of the blue. Although the first reel seems hardly connected to the last two, things move quickly enough that the viewer isn't likely to be too bothered.

We really see Lloyd come into his own with High and Dizzy (1920). The pacing slows down a bit from the earlier two-reel films and there's more attention to character gags and less to violent activity that doesn't always ring the bell. Most importantly, it contains a memorable tall-building sequence that clearly anticipates the classic Safety Last (1923). Harold is a young doctor unable to get patients until Mildred comes in for help with her sleepwalking. Harold's friend (Roy Brooks) has been making some homemade booze out of raisins, but when the tops start blowing off the bottles they have to drink them all in order not to waste any, setting up a long string of Prohibition gags. Although drunk humor is a long tradition going back at least to Shakespeare, if it's well done it can still be entertaining, and Lloyd really does some marvelous stuff with a tired situation, becoming increasingly obnoxious until he winds up on a ledge with a sleepwalking Mildred. While he's quite funny during the first phase, as he stumbles about completely oblivious to his situation, Lloyd becomes uproarious as he recognizes where he is and tries desperately to cling to the ledge he had had no trouble navigating moments before. The second of Lloyd's thrill comedies (the first, the one-reel Look Out Below (1919) is unaccountably missing from the set), it makes for an excellent finale to a worthy volume.

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 condition of the prints is somewhat variable. Dr. Jack has a nasty tear in one spot and a section of nitrate decomposition towards the finale. At the other extreme, The Freshman, derived from the original European negative, is one of the most gorgeous prints of a silent that I've ever seen. It's nearly flawless, with plenty of fine detail and a clarity that makes it look like it is a brand new film. Transfers for the most part are quite good, though Dr. Jack and the three films on the second side of Disc 2 suffer from the same combing issues that plagued Vol. 1. For the most part these aren't too noticeable, however, and these will look just fine to an uncritical eye (certainly the effect is not as obstrusive as the ghosting from PAL/NTSC conversion).

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno
DS 2.0(music only)yes


Audio Transfer Review: Robert Israel and Carl Davis contribute orchestral scores for the silents (Israel does the lion's share here), and they're all appropriate and fine-sounding. Billy Blazes, Esq. also features an alternate organ score by the legendary Gaylord Carter, who criminally goes uncredited. Feet First has substantial noise and hiss, but when compared against other films of 1930, it actually sounds pretty good.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 79 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish, English (only on Feet First) with remote access
1 Documentaries
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1) Suzanne Lloyd, Annette d'Agostino Lloyd, Richard Correll; 2) Leonard Maltin, Richard Correll and Dick Bunn
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Galleries
Extras Review: Both The Kid Brother and The Freshman feature full-length commentaries. That for The Kid Brother is a bit tiresome; the three participants tend to spend much of the time reading the intertitles and fawning over Harold Lloyd's talents, improbably crediting him with the invention of the romantic comedy, among other things. It's generally skippable though there are a few moments where they point out some interesting techniques. That for The Freshman, with Leonard Maltin, is much more worthwhile and contains a wealth of background information, though since nearly every commentary goes into the tale of how Lloyd lost half of his right hand, it begins to get rather repetitive.

Each side also includes a production gallery for the films that are included therein, with a total of about three dozen production stills scattered among the nine films. Side A of Disc 2 also bears an interesting 15-minute documentary on scoring silent comedy, featuring interviews with Carl Davis and Robert Israel, the latter of whom gives some good examples and breakdowns of scenes.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

A very solid set, packed with winning comedy from Harold Lloyd. If you're not planning to pick up the entire box, consider choosing this one since it's top notch from start to finish. Very highly recommended

 


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