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With: Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Jobyna Ralston, etc.
Written by: Hal Roach, Sam Taylor, Tim Whelan, etc.
Directed by: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor, Leo McCarey, etc.
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 1400
Date: 18/03/2013

The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection (2005)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Code of Silents

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Many people today probably recognize that photo of a bespectacled man in a straw hat hanging from the hands of a giant clock on a high building, but the real trick is getting people to name the man or even the film it was taken from.

Hopefully the new The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection (New Line Home Entertainment) will take several steps in correcting that situation.

Often referred to as the "Third Genius," Lloyd (1893-1971) was every bit as resourceful as Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. He adopted a recognizable and appealing screen persona, the "boy" with the glasses, shy, an easy target for bullies, but hopelessly romantic and tirelessly optimistic. He was a sort of whiz kid, smart enough to dream up clever solutions to his problems, but not lucky enough to avoid them in the first place.

A shrewd businessman in real life, Lloyd rarely took directorial credit for his films, though he was their chief "creator." Over the years, he retained their rights and kept his prints in good condition, aided by his granddaughter Suzanne, whom he raised. When Lloyd died, Suzanne vowed to keep her grandfather's name in lights.

Over the past few years, she has published books and magazine articles about her grandfather, and has overseen the restoration of, and the composition of new musical scores for a great many of his films. In 2002, the films premiered on the TCM cable channel and Suzanne promised the DVDs to follow. It took three years for this hard-working perfectionist to pull off the job, but here they are: 28 Lloyd films -- half features and half shorts -- in a seven-disc box set. Volumes 1-3 (with two discs each) are available separately for $29.95 each, but viewers only get the seventh bonus disc by purchasing the whole set ($89.95).

The box contains too many great films to name, but among the champions is Safety Last! (1923), better known as "the clock movie." As part of the plot, Harold dreams up a scheme to bring extra customers to a department store by having his friend, a human fly, climb up the side of the building. But at the last second, Harold must take over, as an aggressive cop unfortunately waylays his buddy. The best part of the joke is that Harold is only required to climb "one more floor," each time he arrives safely on a new landing.

Lloyd's breakthrough, Grandma's Boy (1922) was his first attempt at feature films, and while it's less daring than Chaplin's The Kid (1921), it's quite a bit more successful than Keaton's Three Ages (1923). Its creaky old plot gives Harold a secret "talisman" that helps him stand up to a bully, but Lloyd's instinctive storytelling skills and pacing are a thing of glory.

Less well known but equally brilliant, Girl Shy (1924) is a predecessor to this year's Hitch, in which a shy, stuttering Harold writes an advice book on how to pick up girls -- even though he has no experience to speak of. It climaxes with Harold racing through one of the screen's most spectacular chase scenes to stop his true love's wedding to the wrong man.

Considered Lloyd's masterpiece, The Kid Brother (1927) represents Lloyd's richest and most beautifully sustained storytelling. In it, he plays the youngest brother in a family of strapping men -- including his father, the local sheriff -- and he constantly tries to earn their admiration. When a stash of money is stolen out from under his father's nose, Harold gets his chance. The climactic fight scene takes place on a dilapidated ship, tilted slightly to one side. The stunningly beautiful Jobyna Ralston, with her feathery eyelashes, plays Harold's leading lady.

Lloyd's second masterpiece The Freshman (1925) sends Harold off to college, where he thinks he's become popular, but instead he's the school "boob." Highlights include the party scene in which Harold wears a not-quite-completed suit and the exciting, climactic football game.

The box set also includes Lloyd's first few talkies from the sound era, notably The Milky Way (1936), starring Harold as a milkman who unwittingly becomes a boxer when he accidentally knocks out the champ. This film was blessed with future Oscar winner Leo McCarey (Duck Soup, The Awful Truth) at the helm.

This doesn't even begin to cover the set's many hilarious short films, such as the great Get Out and Get Under (1920). Devouring this much of Lloyd's work in a large chunk, fans will be able to discover not only how funny Lloyd was -- and still is -- but also what a great artist he was, taking supreme care to make sure that every frame was clear, beautiful and logical.

The box set comes with various commentary tracks (by critic Leonard Maltin, Suzanne Lloyd and other historians and experts), photo galleries, a featurette on the new music (by Carl Davis and Robert Israel), a featurette about Lloyd's mansion "Greenacres," interviews, home movies, and lots more.

The biggest surprise is a collection of Lloyd's 3-D photographs, which viewers can look at with the included glasses. Ever the technology nut, Lloyd was fascinated with every new trend that came along. Surely if he were making films today, he'd have been among the first to try digital technology.

But the secret to Lloyd's continued appeal goes back to that clock. As Suzanne Lloyd told me in a 2002 interview, "I think it's just an iconic image, and an amazing photograph -- somebody hanging onto time. Isn't everybody trying to do that?"

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