Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Investigating an Icon

At left is a very famous image -- a still from the Harold Lloyd movie, "Safety Last." In fact, it's become an icon. It's often used as a visual shorthand for Lloyd's career, and for silent movie comedians as a group.

When I investigated this icon, I discovered a world of entertainment hidden behind this frozen image.

I received the first three discs of the Harold Lloyd collection from Netflix, and started off with "Safety Last."

First discovery -- the tower-climbing sequence is hysterical, but there's another scene where Lloyd's desperately trying to get to work on time, hopping from one vehicle to another that's equally funny. And there are a number of smaller stunts and bits of physical humor that are almost as brilliant. This is an incredibly funny film, and it's a crime that so few people have seen it, compared to Keaton's "The General," or Chaplin's "Gold Rush."

Second discovery -- "Safety Last" wasn't a fluke. While Lloyd tends to play the same basic character, the stories and situations varied greatly from film to film, and I was amazed that sheer invention of the physical humor. "Girl Shy" and "Hot Water" might not be as great as "Safety Last," but they'll deliver an evening's worth of chuckles for sure.

Third discovery -- Lloyd comedic genius wasn't limited to physical comedy. Also included in the set were some of his movies from the 1930's. Lloyd's deadpan delivery is somewhat reminicent of Bob Hope and while physical humor is still present, its been supplemented by breezy, witty dialog and word play.

Fourth discovery -- Una Merkel. She co-starred with Lloyd in "Cat's Paw." I had seen her before in "42nd Street," but here she really gets to carry the picture. If you can imagine Eve Arden delivery and timing with a thick Kentucky accent, you'll have a good idea of what Merkel brings to the screen. I'll be looking for more films by her.

Is the point of this post to encourage you to start watching Harold Lloyd? No, but if you did, you wouldn't be sorry. The point is this -- none of these four discoveries were apparent just from looking at the icon. I had to get behind the image.

For the curious, there are many rewards for investigating icons -- this is just a post about one of them.

- Ralph

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:54 PM

    Yes He's Magnificient.. I teach film classes and show his work often!!!