Friday, 10 August 2012

The Kid Brother (1927)

Harold Lloyd was the third of the three big comedians of the silent era. The two others being Charles Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Today we tend to forget Harold Lloyd, mainly because his comedies for many years were out of circulation being locked up in a vault. They had to be rediscovered while Chaplin’s and Keaton’s material never left the eye of the public. But in their days Lloyd was as famous as the other two.

I have been mentioning before that I find it unfair that Lloyd is only represented in the book by one movie while Keaton and Chaplin have several entries. I think this hiatus from public attention has a lot to do with it. Before I encountered Harold Lloyd through the list I had never heard of him before and that is only partly because I am an ignorant. He has to a large part of the public simply disappeared.

Another reason may be that his movies are not as varied as Chaplin’s and Keaton’s. They are good, no doubt about it, but he also uses the same template in so many of his comedies. In that sense picking just one should cover it all. At least that is the argument I suspect the editors used. In order to get “The Kid Brother” I bought a 9 DVD Harold Lloyd box set with so many of his comedies that I can say now that I have a fairly good idea what sort of stuff he did. My personal favorite is “Safety Last!” and template or no template, that movie ought to be on the list! “The Kid Brother” is certainly one of the better ones, but how they could pass by “Safety Last!” is beyond me.

Lloyd’s is also physical humor that works well in silents. He is always the small timid guy who gets into all these impossible situations but get by by being smart and courageous when it counts. In that sense “The Kid Brother” is a classic example of a Lloyd comedy.

Harold, as he is usually called in his comedies, is the smallest of three brothers, the sons of the premier citizen of Hicoryville, Sheriff Hickory. The four of them live together in a family where Harold is treated as somewhere between a child and a maid. Largely thanks to their size and strength his family consider Harold inferior to themselves and as much as he strives for recognition they just ignore him. While Harold may be the smallest he compensates by being smart. He’s got smart solutions for his everyday chores and it is easy to see that if his family gave him greater responsibility he would be an asset to them. As it is, being treated as an inferior, he believes he is so and so he accepts his lot as the timid one.

The day that changes his life comes when a medicine show arrives in town. The staff of the show consists of two thugs and a pretty innocent girl. Through a chain of circumstances Harold falls in love with the girl and she in him. To begin with this does not work out so well. He is the one who allowed them to set up shop in the first place (by acting sheriff while home alone) so his father sends him off to shut down the show. Being timid he is easily outmaneuvered by the sleek thugs and hung to fry (has to be seen!). It all ends in a blaze and pandemonium and he is named the culprit. Harold is not eager to return home for whatever his brothers have in store for him.

What follows is the funniest scene in the movie. The girl is left with no place to stay since her wagon has burned to cinders so Harold offers that she can stay at his place. His brothers who have waited up for him are only wearing nightshirts and so they flee in horror when a girl shows up. Gee, if she saw them in their nightshirts! Harold uses this as a shield against them in a scene that for its inventiveness and hilarity is fully at par with Keaton. The scene climaxes the next morning when the brothers think it is the girl sleeping behind the curtain and offer breakfast and flowers only to see the girls waltzing by the window… and Harold sitting behind the curtain enjoying the breakfast. Top class.

The citizens of Hickoryville have assembled a small fortune as their share in a dam, the greatest thing ever to happen to Hickoryville. As the premier citizen of the town the sheriff holds the money till they can be handed over to the state. The thugs of the medicine show steal the money and as the two older brothers cannot trace the thugs it is up to Harold to get the money back. If not, the angry mob is going to blame the sheriff and hang him for it.    

“The Kid Brother” is stuffed with chases. In fact I would say maybe 50% of the running time consists of some sort of chase, whether it is Harold being chased by the neighbor, the brothers or the thug. Fortunately they are very inventive and funny chases, but it is also clear that this was the selling formula in the twenties. In fact a typical Hollywood action movie today would be much the same so not much has changed really, except that what they lacked in special effects back then they make up for in clever diversions and death defying stunts. Note that you never see one of Lloyds hands. He ruined his hand in a stunt and always wears a glove and keeps it out of sight. He may act the timid but that guy got balls!

Speaking of timidity we also see a Hollywood cliché that always bothered me. I would not be surprised to learn that Lloyd actually created it: In order to get your self-respect and the respect of others you need to beat somebody up. When you can beat up somebody you are a big guy.

I will just leave that standing, I am sure to get back to that one again and again in the future.

Anyway, “The Kid Brother” is family fun of the best kind and being from a period where I often have problems keeping my attention on what I see, this one was an easy movie to watch.

But why on earth did they leave out “Safety Last!” from the list?


  1. I love that you mentioned Safety Last. This is the single biggest "HUH???" moment for me in regards to this list. First, Lloyd should have more than one film on it, but if it can only be one, why The Kid Brother? In addition to being a better film, Safety Last has an iconic scene of Lloyd hanging off the clock on the side of the building. It's one of the most famous images ever from a silent film. And somehow this movie didn't make the list?

    I like his movie The Freshman quite a bit, too. In fact, Keaton's film College is almost a remake of this film from Lloyd.

  2. You're probably right that his films being locked up in a vault for decades hurt his popularity and critical admiration. Still, Chaplin and Keaton are, in my opinion, a few yards ahead of Lloyd regarding storytelling. As you mentioned, 99.9% of his films are the same thing and he plays the same character type (of course, Chaplin, played the Little Tramp, so what am I getting at anyway?) You are right, however, that if any Lloyd film should have made the cut it should have been Safety Last--if only because scenes from it have been imitated by so many other movies.