Friday, February 13, 2009

Harold Lloyd and Speedy

Speedy (1928)
Ted Wilde
STARRING: Harold Lloyd, Ann Christy, Bert Woodruff
NOMINATED FOR: Best Director, Comedy Picture

Harold Lloyd often seems to get the bronze medal in the great "who was the greatest silent comedian" debate, with Chaplin and Keaton duking it out for the gold. Of the Lloyd films I've seen, I can sort of see why. Lloyd was the least "silenty" of the three. His stunts, even prior to his accident in 1919 that resulted in the lose of two of his fingers, were rarely as big as his contemporaries. Which is not to say he wasn't athletic. He was fast and had great balance, but his films seemed to have many more smaller, simpler gags.

Harold Lloyd's films also don't hit the same emotional heights that most of Chaplin's films (I'll keep my opinion of Keaton to myself for the time being). They tend to be more popcorn entertainment then anything else, but nobody can popcorn entertain better then Harold Lloyd.

Speedy was both Harold Lloyd's last silent film as well as his only film to get an Oscar nomination. There actually isn't much to talk about, because going into the film in any great detail would just be listing gags, and comedies work best when you don't know what's happening. This film does have one great value to it that I will touch upon, a value that probably makes this one of the most important films for historians that I've looked at so far.

This film IS New York City!

No silent film I've seen thus far shows the Big Apple in the 1920s in so much detail. Most of Harold Lloyd's films were shot in LA, but the exception of a few pickup shots, Speedy was shot entirely on location in NYC. They used mostly hidden cameras to film, and they went everywhere. Uptown, downtown, even into the subways, and what we get are a lot of little details, such as the combination scale-and-fortune-telling machine at the entrance of the subway, or the drive-in horse-shoers, or my favorite:

An updated play-by-play score board in a shop window. One shop owner gets updates over the phone while another operates lights and symbols to show what's going on in the game. This was prior to television, and radio hadn't gotten in to the whole sports broadcasting thing yet, so this was one of the main ways of getting the scores.

Baseball and the Yankees are huge cultural things in Speedy. Everyone in the film, as just everyone in that time period, is a big fan of the game, and their schedules are determined by the game schedules. Lloyd's character only gets jobs if there's an easy way to get updates on the game. A lot of the film acts as a love letter to the game and to the team, and it all peaks when Babe Ruth himself makes a cameo.

And this is big-but-athletic Babe Ruth, not old-and-a-bit-dumpy Babe Ruth you see in all the sound clips. At one point, Lloyd's character becomes a cab driver, and by pure chance ends up picking up Ruth to take to Yankee Stadium. Lloyd is so overwhelmed that he can barely pay attention to the road, and keeps glancing over to sing Ruth praises. Ruth's reaction is priceless.

The centerpiece of the film is a trip to 1920s Coney Island, which may well have been the most dangerous place in the world!

To be honest, if I ended up going back in time to the 1920s, I'd stay as far away from amusement park rides as possible.

Well, except the spinning disk. I've always wanted to try the spinning disk.

These moments of where old school New York really shine through are what make the movie for me, more so then any of the gags and storyline. And they're good gags and story lines, don't get me wrong, this is a very enjoyable if simple film. But when you get me nostalgic for a time that even my GRANDPA wasn't around for, then you got something special going on.

Plus, Harold Lloyd flips himself off.

No comments: