High and Dizzy

safety last slide cropped

The Criterion Collection has taken over the Harold Lloyd library from New Line (and what was it ever doing with them in the first place?), which means these magnificent films will be back in circulation in state-of-the-art digital editions. First up, of course, is Lloyd’s most famous film, “Safety Last,” a movie that vastly profits from the increased detail of Blu-ray: those vistas from the top of the department store now seem to extend to Sacramento.

The disc, reviewed here, contains a healthy selection of extras, including new digital restorations of the short films “Take a Chance” (1918), “Young Mr. Jazz” (1919) and “His Royal Slyness” (1920), and a terrific documentary piece, “Locations and Effects,” in which the silent film historian John Bengtson and the visual effects specialist Craig Barron revisit the locations for the film and reconstruct the methods Lloyd used to create his vertiginous effects, all in the camera. (John has a typically fascinating post on a Hollywood alley that appears in both “Safety Last!” and “Cops” on his blog, Silent Locations.) And topping off the Criterion disc is “Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius,” the 1985 documentary that Kevin Brownlow and David Gill made for Thames Television.

If you live on the East Coast, you’ve no doubt had the pleasure of hearing the pianist Ben Model accompany silent films at MOMA and other area institutions. A silent film collector himself, Ben has just issued, with help from a Kickstarter campaign, a DVD containing some unique silent comedies that have survived only through 16-millimeter prints made for home movie enthusiasts. Titled “Accidentally Preserved,” the disc is available through Amazon and features films with Wallace Lupino, Monte Collins, Billy Franey, Cliff Bowes and other overlooked figures, as well as a terrific Fleischer “Out of the Inkwell” cartoon called “Mechanical Doll.” The program notes are by the silent films scholar Steve Massa and can be perused here; Steve also has a new book covering even more neglected silent comics, appositely titled Lame Brains and Lunatics

70 comments to High and Dizzy

  • jbryant

    Johan: You’re right about Lloyd being an inspiration for Clark Kent. Supposedly, artist Joe Shuster based the design on a combination of Lloyd and himself. It’s also well known that the name Clark Kent was a combination of actors Clark Gable and Kent Taylor, who was related by marriage to writer Jerry Siegel’s wife. Other movie influences on the creators include Douglas Fairbanks (Superman design) and Lang’s Metropolis (name of the story’s locale).

  • Alex Hicks

    Very simply, as Ruth O’Brien uncontrovertially outlines in her 1998, Workers’ Paradox: The Republican Origins of New Deal Labor Policy, 1886–1935, the Republican Party a liberal element, typified in the early 20th century by Theodore Roosevelt, Senator Robert M. La Follette, Sr. and western leaders such as Senator Hiram Johnson in California, Senator George W. Norris in Nebraska, Senator Bronson M. Cutting in New Mexico, Congresswoman Jeanette Rankin in Montana, and Senator William Borah in Idaho. They were generally liberal in domestic policy, supported unions, and supported much of the New Deal. They did tend to be isolationist in foreign policy (Robert Johnson, The peace progressives and American foreign relations, 1995) but it is Republican heterogeneity in domestic policy, not foreign policy, that is relevant to the usefulness or un-usefulness of characterizing Harold Lloyd a Republican with reference to his view that the American free market puts safety last. Un-useful I’d say because Liberal Republican were to the left of nearly all Democrats until 1932-36 when the Democrats moved out of the South and ghettoes on waves newly mobilized and formerly progressive Republican voters (Brown’s Ballots of Tumult: A Portrait of Volatility in American Voting, 1992).

    Hopefully, Steven Spielberg – moving on from D.K Goodwin’s Team of Rivals to her No Ordinary Times– will film FDR’s dramatic, if unsuccessful, attempt to reconfigure the Democratic party in 1941 by drawing in Republican progressives with the aid of Wendell Wilkie and concurrently jettisoning the South. (Perhaps with Bill Murray as FDR and Daniel Day Lewis as either Wendell Wilkie or Eleanor Roosevelt.)

  • Johan Andreasson

    jbryant: This leaves Lois Lane, who as it happens also was inspired by the movies: her personality was based on movie journalist Torchy Blane, and her name came from actress Lola Lane, who played Torchy Blane in one of the films.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Junko, thanks. Alex, the politics of SAFETY LAST! is conjectural on our part. Lloyd’s identification as a Republican dates to 1940, when pro-New Deal Republicans were fading from influence. I do not know if he was a Willkie (anti-New Deal, but liberal internationalist) or mainstream California (in line with the conservative ex-Gov. Frank Merriam, who had beat Upton Sinclair in the 1934 governor’s race) Republican. I suspect the latter. State Attorney General Earl Warren was seen as conservative until his governorship (1943-53).

    Re Superman, Lloyd himself disguised himself simply by putting his glasses on. Thus his two identities, HL the good citizen and film producer, and HL the comic star. (Some of the other superheroes introduced around 1940 also used a minimal disguise, like the simple face mask used by I think the Spirit.)

  • jbryant

    Best superhero disguise award goes to Billy Batson.

  • Great news about Criterion releasing Harold Lloyd’s films on blu-ray! For me one of the best dvd experiences has been Harold Lloyd: The Definitive Collection (2005, released in Finland as a 10-dvd set in 2008 by Studio Canal / Universal). I loved Harold Lloyd’s films when they were telecast in Finland in the 1970s in shortened and sonorized versions. But the new releases restored under the supervision of Suzanne Lloyd since the 1990s revealed the true depth, rhythm and spirit of these classic films, as well as the attention for milieu and characters. All done with loving care, including the music by Carl Davis (for three films) and Robert Israel (for the rest). The composers had the Chaplinesque ambition of not underlining comedy but enhancing the emotion.

    The surprise is how good all the Harold Lloyd silent features are, and how versatile. After A SAILOR MADE MAN Lloyd never repeated himself. The sound films are good, too, but not as masterful. What has happened to PROFESSOR BEWARE? It was the first Lloyd film I saw almost 50 years ago…

  • “Best superhero disguise award goes to Billy Batson.”

    Whose Marvel-lous alter ego was, famously, modelled on Fred MacMurry.

    R.I.P. James Gandolfini (unnervingly, I watched Killing Them Softly only last night).

  • “What has happened to PROFESSOR BEWARE?”

    For years “Professor Beware” was a staple in the Los Angeles TV market; I saw it several times in the 1960s and then it seemed to vanish. Maybe its copyright was renewed.

  • Gregg Rickman

    X, PROFESSOR BEWARE was part of a Paramount package that Channel 5 (as I recall) ran constantly; the package also included MILLION DOLLAR LEGS, 4 Marx Brothers films (the first five sans ANIMAL CRACKERS), and various dramas such as DEVIL IN THE DEEP. Lloyd’s declining popularity in the 30s led him to not own this film as he’d owned his all his previous features thru THE MILKY WAY. To be precise, according to the Tom Dardis biography “HL: The Man on the Clock,” Paramount put up $600,000 to make PROFESSOR BEWARE, with Lloyd to pay any overage. As the perfectionist Lloyd kept shooting new material to improve the film, he spent just over $220,000 of his own money, on top of the studio’s investment. (Did Brad Pitt spend his own money for the retakes on WORLD WAR Z?) Unfortunately, unlike WORLD WAR Z, PROFESSOR BEWARE made less than $800 K on its release, ie, less than the total cost of $820 K, not counting distribution and other expenses. As a result, “it took another twenty-five years for PROFESSOR BEWARE to earn $933,063 (mostly through TV rentals), or enough to return most if not all of his investment.” (268) I’m not sure where the rights reside now, but the fact that it hasn’t appeared in Lloyd’s previous DVD collection is telling. As is its absence from TCM, which currently shows other early 30s Paramounts. Too bad, as it’s not at all a bad picture, its story an excuse for as many (old-fashioned) sight gags Lloyd could muster.

    PROFESSOR BEWARE IS showing at the forthcoming Slapsticon film festival in Bloomington, Indiana, which I would certainly attend if I were anywhere near Bloomington:

    http://www.slapsticon.org/program.html

  • Griff

    SAFETY LAST is truly wonderful — particularly when seen with a large crowd. DK’s appreciation of Lloyd was very nicely penned.

    For the record, William Friedkin does discuss the Paul Crump matter at length in his new memoir, and, as in all of his previous re-tellings of the story, takes great credit for saving Crump from execution. [Also — as usual — he neglects to mention that the powerful and influential attorney Louis Nizer, brought in to craft and argue Crump’s final appeal, might have had something to do with this. Nizer’s published account of the Crump case, in his 1966 best-seller THE JURY RETURNS, doesn’t even mention Friedkin’s name.]

    The most interesting upshot to Friedkin’s discourse in his book about the Crump case is that he has now concluded that Paul Crump was probably guilty.

  • jbryant

    When I was a grad student/T.A. at SIU-Carbondale, SAFETY LAST always went over big with the youngsters in the introductory film history class. Possibly the biggest laugh came from that perfect little gag where Lloyd and his pal hide from the landlord under their coats that are hanging on the wall.

  • “it’s not at all a bad picture, its story an excuse for as many (old-fashioned) sight gags Lloyd could muster.”

    As a kid I grooved on the Egyptian curse angle and the train sequence. How ever old fashioned the gags were Lloyd executed them with precision and fine timing. I hope someone brings “Professor Beware” back.

  • Gregg Rickman

    X, I should have put “old fashioned” in quotes, as how PROFESSOR BEWARE was perceived in the up-to-date, streamlined moderne world of 1938. No one has ever written much about the film, which is interesting as it was basically the only Lloyd film in wide circulation in the ’60s and ’70s. The exception I guess was THE SIN OF HAROLD DIDDLEBOCK, which still turns up as a PD release today, but which I never saw on my local tv channel until sometime in the 80s. Many many people, in short, only knew Lloyd thru this film (Lloyd of course holding onto the rights to his work, releasing a couple of compilation films in the early 60s, but not to television. There was also an attempt to market a syndicated tv show. As I say, PROFESSOR BEWARE got to be Lloyd’s standard bearer, even as compilations of his Mutual shorts was the way I first experienced Chaplin).

  • alex

    THE SIN OF HAROLD DIDDLEBOCK is hardly SAFETY LAST or THE FRESHMAN, but it’s always seemed like a hilarious –indeed excellent– film to me. (Ditto for McCarey’s THE MILKY WAY.)

    on another note, there’re rich appreciations of Assayas’s “Apres Mai” –and Ford’s “The Searchers” by Lus Sante and Geoffrey O’Brien, respectively, in the current New York Review of Books.

  • David Cohen

    About Paul Crump: There’s also a Phil Ochs song titled “Paul Crump” that tells his story – “If a man can change, then a man should live.” Mentions Kerner but not, of course, Friedkin.

  • William Friedkin, notorious home-video revisionist, revises his opinion of the Paul Crump case?

    “I’ll never say that life doesn’t imitate art again.” — Larry Lipton

  • alex

    Gregg,

    I have no idea what sort of Republican Lloyd ever was. I was just quibbling about your initial use if a “Republican” –RE I thought the Lloyd of SAFETY LAST– as a sort from whom critical views of one or another aspect of the. ’20 s economic order were to be regarded as anomalous. That’s simply incorrect . 20 ‘ Republican were a heterogeneous bunch not infrequently to the left of Democrats, especially of Southern Democrats and not the least on domestic economic mattters

    As for 1940, I must dissent from you again. That ‘s the year Wilkie won the GOP nomination to run precisely, as Dewey would do after him, as. “New Deal Republican ” i.e., as one reconciled to major New Deal reforms but to be trusted to avoid — indeed curtail – reformist excesses going forward, an Eisenhower of 1940. Precisely the man to whom — D K Goodwin tells us – FDR turned in hope of incorporating liberal Republicans onto the Dems. and jettisonning conservative S. Dems.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Alex, I’ve been clear that I don’t know what sort of Republican candidate Lloyd would have been if he had indeed run for governor, as the Variety item/s I mentioned said he might in 1940-41. Willkie-style liberal internationalist? Maybe (but we should remember, that even Willkie was more conservative during his presidential run in 1940, than in his 1941 alliance with FDR against the America Firsters, and his late “One World” phase). Dewey was also more conservative than he’s thought of today (thanks esp. for his role in blocking Taft in 1952 over Eisenhower). I’ve just read a biography of John Bricker, the ultra-conservative from Taft’s Ohio who was Dewey’s running mate in 1944, and it mentions how coldly contemptuous Dewey was, in private, of the New Deal. I don’t see any reason to change my assessment (June 19 at 1:03) that Lloyd was more likely to be in the California GOP mainstream, ie, at least vocally oppositional to the New Deal and all its works, like ex-Gov. Merriam, Attorney General Warren, the L.A. Times of the Chandlers, the Oakland Tribune of future senator Knowland, etc. But this is just informed speculation. My key point is that the politics of the actual films of the 1920s, like most Hollywood films, were vague enough to appeal to all audiences, and that while they’re certainly open to analysis, they continue to joyfully appeal to audiences today (as has been testified to, more than once, upthread). He’s a “conservative” like Walt Disney was a conservative, at once a small-town midwesterner and an utopian.

  • Brian Dauth

    Personal politics of artists are unsteady guideposts: Mankiewicz was a Willie Republican (at least he later claimed) who wrote and directed NO WAY OUT. The politics of art works is a lot more fascinating (both in terms of historical positioning and contemporary reception).

  • mike schlesinger

    AFAIK, Universal owns PROFESSOR BEWARE (via its acquisition of the Paramount library) and I believe they recently preserved it.