“The Third Genius” or journeyman gag-machine? Of the legendary silent comics, Harold Lloyd seems to be the one with the most still left to discover—Chaplin, with his Victorian lyricism, and Keaton, with his formalized sangfroid, are by now secure in their status as cinematic giants, yet some historians to this day dismiss Lloyd’s Jazz Age go-getter as unworthy of comparison, all craft and no personality. The second volume in Kino’s Lloyd collection sheds some light on the enigma, revealing the Lloyd “Glasses” look (round specs, straw hat, spiffy suit), if not the Lloyd persona, already at an early age. In the frantic one-reeler apprenticeship of Two-Gun Gussie, The City Slicker, and The Non Stop Kid, Lloyd fluctuates from saloon dandy to brash hotel manager, the manic energy influenced more by Mack Sennett’s school of the grotesque than by personal expression. Lloyd’s world is actually tidier than Sennett’s, less inclined to eruptions of the id, with even the oddest moments (a barroom counter neatly folded into a bag in Ring Up the Curtain) fastidiously explained in the narrative. (Chaplin’s spirit also hovers around From Hand to Mouth, arguably the closest the comfortably middle-class Lloyd came to playing a starving outsider.) It was reportedly in 1922’s Grandma’s Boy that the comic started exploring what Andrew Sarris dubbed his “Tom Sawyer complex,” but the same fantasies of vertiginous success can be found in High and Dizzy, made the year before, in his late twenties yet still a “Boy,” chasing his damsel (Bebe Daniels, then Mildred Davis) and security in ‘20s America. High and Dizzy also features the trademark Lloyd trope of the social-climber literally finding himself hanging from a ledge, neatly parted hair rising like Easerhead’s as he realizes the heights below his feet. In that sense, Never Weaken is the volume’s jewel, anticipating much of the better known Safety Last in its depiction of the urban landscape as an ominous jungle-gym, where Lloyd’s lovelorn clerk gets saved from suicide by a suspended beam from a nearby skyscraper, only to awaken to celestial sounds and horrifying empty spaces. A sublime moment of spiritual vertigo, but also one of the elements in the comic’s daisy-chain of visual gags, with Lloyd emerging as a vital choreographer of slapstick mayhem, still not given his due.
Scarcely cleaned up, the transfer wavers from crisp (High and Dizzy, Never Weaken) to faded (From Hand to Mouth, Among Those Present). The sound is pleasant, featuring Donald Sasin's piano score especially composed for the release.
A revealing but slender offering from a still-underrated funnyman.