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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

SPEEDY (1928)

Harold Lloyd’s last silent release* misses the grand story arc & satisfying emotional heft of his very best films (THE FRESHMAN/’25; THE KID BROTHER/’27), but has its own episodic charm, action thrills & laugh-out-loud delight. Harold, a man of many jobs (if only he could keep one!), is at least constant to fiancé Ann Christy (a faceless replacement for the much missed Jobyna Ralston), but she won’t marry till Granddad settles his dispute with the big money men who are trying to shut down his little one-horse trolley line. After a couple of reels setting up the situations, Harold’s writing team pulls out the stops on three strikingly executed, superbly funny set pieces: A trip to Coney Island (every Luna Park ride now looking like a personal injury lawsuit); Harold driving a hack for a day (with Babe Ruth featured in a Mr. Toad-style wild ride to Yankee Stadium); And a two-tier finale to save the trolley with a curbside neighborhood donnybrook followed up with Harold making like Ben-Hur on a chariot-style trolley race to the finish. Plotting & gags are snatched here & there (Harold overhears plot details via adjoining phone booths @ Yankee Stadium), but deft timing & a general sense of goodwill easily win out in the end. Lots of fun; take the kids.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Criterion’s 2015 restoration is loaded with nifty EXTRAs: CHECK OUT the real life locations as they look today; SEE Harold in home movies without the prosthetic hand-glove he wore to hide his damaged right hand (imagine all those stunts sans opposable thumb!); WATCH the 1919 short BUMPING INTO B’WAY with adorable Bebe Daniels as a wannabee actress & an impossibly young Harold a wannabee playwright.

DOUBLE-BILL: File under Great Minds Think Alike: Buster Keaton filmed his own on-location New York City adventures the very same year in THE CAMERAMAN/’28. Many similar ideas & settings, totally different tone & execution. His last masterpiece.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *While SPEEDY is listed as Lloyd’s final silent, his next, WELCOME DANGER/’29, was all but completed without sound before gaining a synched soundtrack and going thru a partial reshoot to add dialogue sequences. A pure ‘thrill’ film (like SAFETY LAST/’23), the original silent version would certainly have been released in territories & towns not yet wired for sound. Alas, only the unsatisfying Talkie version seems to survive. Hard to believe since Lloyd owned & saved everything. Calling all Eastern European & South American archives!

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