Editorial review of The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection Vols. 1-3 courtesy of Amazon.com
The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection boxed set is the definitive account of one of the silent cinema’s greatest comedians–and for a time, its most popular star. The seven discs included in this three-volume set have virtually all of Lloyd’s 1920s features, most of his talking pictures, and a healthy collection of shorts. Because Lloyd–a canny businessman–retained control over much of his output, the films have remained under his (and his estate’s) control through the decades, and the quality of the key titles is generally excellent.
Vol. 1 leads off with the most famous of Lloyd’s pictures, the 1923 “thrill” comedy Safety Last. The bespectacled Mr. Lloyd found his spot in comedy by playing the persona seen here: an optimistic go-getter, energetic but not particularly remarkable, who perseveres as he moves up the ladder. In Safety Last, he really moves up: Harold is a department-store clerk who concocts a publicity scheme for his store, which results in a climactic, hair-raising ascent up the outside of the building (at one point hanging from the hands of a huge clock). There is at least one other masterpiece on Vol. 1, the wonderful Girl Shy (1924), in which Harold is a small-time tailor’s apprentice who can’t speak to women but nevertheless has penned a how-to book entitled “The Secret of Making Love.” There’s also the 1923 Why Worry?, which suffers just a bit with its odd milieu (tropical island beset by revolutionaries) but has some hilariously weird routines built around compact Harold and the giant John Aasen (8 feet, 9 inches). A trio of shorter films are included, plus two Paramount sound features, the oddball Cat’s Paw and Leo McCarey’s entertaining The Milky Way.
Vol. 2 has the brilliant The Freshman (1925), with Lloyd as a college plebe whose ridiculous ideas about making himself ingratiating to others (including hilariously inept jig during a handshake) makes him the laughingstock of the campus. The movie concludes with a justifiably famous football sequence. The Kid Brother (1927) is Harold as the weak link in the tough Hickory family, while Dr. Jack (1922) casts him as a country doctor whose ordinary ways prove sharper than they seem (his co-star, as in some other films here, is future wife Mildred Davis). In Grandma’s Boy (1922) Lloyd plays a small-town fellow who lives with his frisky grandmother; convinced of his own cowardice, he yearns to compete for the hand of a pretty girl. His courtly call to the girl’s home is the occasion for uproarious battle with a ridiculous “formal” suit, mothballs, and a litter of kittens attracted by the goose grease on his shoes. The gem of the shorts here is High and Dizzy (1920), a warm-up for Safety Last, which has a great sequence with Lloyd tipsily navigating a ledge on a high building. Feet First (1930), Lloyd’s second talking picture, has Harold as an upwardly-striving shoe salesman trying to finesse his way up the ladder. Some good shipboard sequences in the middle of this one, but the main drawing card is a throwback: Lloyd re-visiting the Safety Last hanging-from-a-building sequence, but this time working every variation known to slapstick.
Vol. 3 has Speedy, his last silent picture, which packs as many great gags per minute as any Lloyd film, and also has one of his sweetest love stories. But the film is also notable for its extensive location shooting in New York City. The sequences shot at Coney Island, with some wonderfully hair-raising (and understandably obsolete) rides, are gorgeous and historically valuable. Hot Water (1924) also goes into the time capsule of great Lloyd features, even if it feels like a handful of shorter films shoehorned together. This one gets its charm from basic domestic situations. Like Hot Water, For Heaven’s Sake (1926) is an hour long; this funny one casts Lloyd as a rich twit who takes up with a girl whose father runs a homeless mission.
There’s one talking picture, the somewhat routine Movie Crazy (1932), but the silent shorts, of which there are many here, are better. Check out Haunted Spooks from 1920, which has its share of good jokes but which is also fascinating for its place in Lloyd’s career. He suffered an off-set accident midway through shooting, costing him the thumb and forefinger of his right hand; after a hiatus, he completed shooting with a prosthetic glove (which he used in films thereafter). A heartfelt 15-minute documentary on Lloyd’s palatial L.A. estate, Greenacres, uses copious home-movie footage to show the marvelous place and give a hint of Lloyd’s homey, likable personality (it’s narrated by granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd). A bonus disc contains home movies, celebrity tributes, Lloydâs collection of 3-D photographs, and his honorary Oscar acceptance speech from 1953. —Robert Horton