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HAROLD LLOYD COMEDY COLLECTION

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Jobyna Ralston
Directors:  Various
Audio:  Dolby Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  New Line Home Entertainment
Features:  See Review
Length:  7 discs!
Release Date:  November 15, 2005

Films ****

Harold Lloyd was one of the legendary three giants of silent comedies...there was Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Lloyd, and then there was everybody else.

You may recall Chaplin and Keaton a little more easily than Lloyd, but don't despair.  The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection is a seemingly never-ending parade of the comic's best, brightest and most indelible work.  Many fans have been clamoring for a DVD set like this for some time now, but even if you aren't one of them, you will be by the time you make your way through these 28 films!

Lloyd earned a reputation as a master of thrill comedy.  His movies were funny and inventive, but they also were suspenseful and exciting.  Many remember him as the man who dangled from a clock high above the city streets in Safety Last, and rightfully so, that's the movie that begins this collection.

It's also a good showcase for Harold's character, usually called "The Boy".  He wasn't a pitiful tramp caught up in the throes of the world around him like Chaplin, or a stone-faced fellow who made his way through life by happenstance like Keaton.  No, Lloyd, with his glasses and straw hat, was a plucky go-getter, always thinking on his feet and managing to work his way into and out of trouble with wit and determination.

Safety Last is filled with such comedy.  Who could forget Lloyd hanging from a hook pretending to be a coat to escape his landlady, or his efforts to convince his sweetheart that he's a successful store manager instead of a fabric salesman?  And ultimately, his desire to earn money by having his human fly friend scale the outside of the 16 story department building...which, of course, Harold ends up having to do in his place!

His most popular feature The Freshman is also included, where the spirited Harold tries his hand at college and doesn't realize his "friends" are actually having a laugh at his expense.  Will he prove himself, win the girl, and save the big football game for his school despite being a lowly waterboy?  One guess!

Girl Shy was always a favorite of mine...in it, Harold plays a dreamer who is so nervous around women he stutters uncontrollably, yet somehow manages to pen a tome on how to romance girls!  He happens to fall in love (Jobyna Ralston was a beautiful as they came), but the success of his book will determine whether he feels he can pursue the girl of his dreams.  The finale is an all out race to the altar where Harold uses every means imaginable to get there...and I do mean EVERY means!

The Kid Brother is one of Lloyd's best:  a kind of reverse Cinderella tale where little brother Harold gets to prove his mettle to his disapproving older siblings.  This is a film that showcases not only Harold's knack for comic timing and physical business, but what a consummate artist he was...the film is quite lovely to look at.

And these are just the tip of the iceberg.  Speedy has Harold trying to save the last horse-drawn trolley in New York City...watch for the cameo of Babe Ruth as himself!  Hot Water showcases Harold in a domestically troubling situation.  And The Milky Way showed he was not bothered by the advent of sound; he plays a milkman who becomes a boxer in one of his best talkies.

And we haven't even touched on the trove of short films included in the set!  If you want to see Harold's beginnings in the movies, there are plenty of treats for you.  My favorites are "Ask Father", where a determined Harold tries to get permission to marry his girl from her father, a businessman who has many ways to keep from being disturbed, and "From Hand to Mouth", where a down-on-his-luck Harold, along with an adorable little girl and an enthusiastic dog, help save an heiress' fortune from unscrupulous lawyers.  Or how about "High and Dizzy", where an intoxicated Harold ends up wandering on a high window ledge?  For him, it's literally a hair-raising experience!

There are thrills and laughs galore...perhaps Lloyd didn't quite have Keaton's total mastery of prop comedy and stuntwork (but then again, neither has anyone else in the history of motion pictures), but he comes darn near.  Some of his work is even more amazing when you remember that he lost the thumb and forefinger of his right hand in an accident...look closely in many of these films and you can see his special prosthetic glove made to give the illusion of a full working hand.  But it didn't function like a real appendage...when Harold hung from those ledges and the face of that clock, he was doing so with only three fingers on his right hand!

Harold was also a savvy businessman...he kept ownership of all his films, and as such, was able to take good care of them and market them throughout the years.  His estate still controls his movies, which thankfully led to this DVD release.  No worries about butchered, sloppy public domain prints tarnishing his legacy.  When you see a Harold Lloyd film today, you know what you're seeing met with his seal of approval.  

Perhaps most of all, Lloyd came across as a complete actor.  He was never as pigeonholed into his on-screen persona as Chaplin or Keaton, and as such, he could allow his characters wider range.  Unlike The Little Tramp, he could be heartbreaking without a deliberate appeal for sympathy.  And different from the Great Stone Face, Harold was expressive, reactive, and real.  When fans saw Harold Lloyd in a movie, they could see themselves.  It was this down-to-earth Everyman quality that set him apart from his contemporaries, and actually earned him popularity that at times exceeded theirs!

This collection is joyful beyond measure.  I had more fun with it than just about any other DVD release I can remember.  I'm more than happy to retire my VHS copies of Harold's classic films and start the part of my life where I can enjoy them again and again on disc.  Harold Lloyd was a genius, an artist, and a comedian of the highest caliber.  I can't imagine the silent era without him.  Thanks to The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection, none of us will never have to.

BONUS TRIVIA:  After Safety Last, Mildred Davis retired from Harold Lloyd's movies, but not from his life...she became Mrs. Harold Lloyd!

THE MOVIES:

Disc One:  Safety Last, An Eastern Westerner, Ask Father, Girl Shy, From Hand to Mouth
Disc Two:  The Cat's Paw, The Milky Way, Why Worry
Disc Three:  The Kid Brother, Bumping into Broadway, The Freshman, Billy Blazes Esq.
Disc Four:  Dr. Jack, Feet First, Grandma's Boy, Now or Never, High and Dizzy
Disc Five:  Speedy, Never Weaken, Haunted Spooks, Hot Water
Disc Six:  Movie Crazy, Get Out and Get Under, For Heaven's Sake, Number Please, A Sailor-Made Man, Among Those Present, I Do

Video ***

Harold Lloyd owned his films and he took good care of them, so they look better than most movies from the silent era.  Of course, age takes some toll, and you will see a scratch here, a spot there, but considering how far back the pictures go, that's nothing to be upset about.  For the most part, the black and white photography has held up well, with clean images and good detail.  Many of the films also feature their original color tinting.  I think most cineastes will be more than pleased with New Line's effort here.

Audio ***

Robert Israel does a lot of the scoring for these films, and his work matches Harold's beat for beat.  The music is a real treat, and helps accentuate the laughter and the suspense.  A few of his films also have alternate organ scores, but you really can't go wrong with Israel's music, which is lively and crisp despite mono presentations.

Features ****

I know I'm going to overlook something here, so bear with me...the extras are spread throughout the six main discs, and there's a seventh disc of nothing but features.

Disc One has a commentary track by Leonard Maltin and director/Lloyd friend Richard Correll for Safety Last, along with some production galleries, which are also on Disc Two, along with a featurette on "Harold's Hollywood".

Disc Three has a commentary for The Freshman by Maltin, Correll and historian Richard W. Bann, and a commentary by Harold's granddaughter and DVD producer Suzanne Lloyd with Correll and author Annette D'Agostino Lloyd for The Kid Brother.  More production galleries can be found on Discs Three and Four, which also has a featurette on scoring for comedy.

Disc Five has commentaries on Speedy and Haunted Spooks by Suzanne Lloyd, Annette D'Agostino Lloyd and Richard Correll, and there are more production galleries on Discs Five and Six, along with a featurette on Harold's home at Greenacres.

That brings us to the bonus disc...where to begin?  Leonard Maltin introduces the disc, and after that, a good place to start is his overview of Harold's life and career.  A more detailed look is available, broken up into four distinct periods.  There are video bios of many of Harold's friends and collaborators from Hollywood's Golden Age, rare vintage interviews and home movies, photo galleries galore including Lloyd's famous 3-D photographs (glasses that look like his are included!).  There are vintage radio appearances, Harold accepting his special Oscar, a tribute from USC's Delta Kappa Alpha hosted by Jack Lemmon and Steve Allen, and a collection of tributes and interviews with many of Harold's friends and some historians, including Debbie Reynolds, Robert Wagner, Tab Hunter, John Landis, Kevin Brownlow and more.

Maltin also interviews Harold's daughter Gloria and granddaughter Suzanne about the star's life and the compilation of this set.  And Harold's granddaughter takes us on a tour of the handprints outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre in search of Harold's mark.  There are some before and after location photos, along with complete filmography for the star.  All in all, over three hours of bonus material are on this disc alone.

Summary:

Harold Lloyd's genius will never be forgotten nor his influence lost, and The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection will serve to further cement his legacy.  This is one of THE best DVD box sets ever released; a treasure trove of movies and extras that showcase a true giant of the film industry, and packed with laughter, thrills and intimate looks at the man and the legend.  If you're a Harold Lloyd fan, you should buy this collection.  If you're not, you should buy this collection and BECOME a Harold Lloyd fan.  

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