TCM salutes comic genius of Harold Lloyd
By Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY
LOS ANGELES — He made more films than Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton combined, but Harold Lloyd has always been a footnote among silent-film comedic geniuses. All because of an unfortunate decision.
But Sunday, Turner Classic Movies begins a four-week Lloyd retrospective, including all 11 of his full-length silent films from the 1920s as well as his five 1929-34 talkies and assorted shorts. Lloyd is TCM's "Star of the Month," the first silent star to ever receive that treatment.
"Refusing to show the movies on TV was probably not a wise decision," says Suzanne Lloyd, 50, Harold's granddaughter and host of the series. "It hurt him image-wise, because people didn't know who he was. But to be able to now show the films the right way, commercial-free, in restored prints with new scores. .. is exactly what he wanted."
TCM ran a sneak peek of Lloyd films last April. At the time, Suzanne, the president of the Harold Lloyd Trust, had been working with the UCLA Film and Television Archive to restore the prints and commission new scores for the films.
"They weren't all ready, but we wanted to get some exposure for the book, so TCM was nice enough to show some of the films." The book is the lavish coffee-table tome Harold Lloyd: Master Comedian (Abrams, $45), which she co-wrote last year with Jeffrey Vance. It is scheduled for a second printing this summer.
This month would have marked Lloyd's 110th birthday. The TCM festival begins at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT Sunday with The Freshman, which Suzanne Lloyd exhibited last May at UCLA with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra performing live. The event was hosted by silent film fan Dustin Hoffman, and attended by celebs such as John Cusack and Larry David.
Even to those who've never seen a silent film, the iconic image of the man in the straw hat and round glasses hanging off a 10-story clock tower (from Safety Last!) still resonates 80 years later. But in the book, Suzanne says it's The Freshman that was Harold's "finest film and arguably his funniest," as well as his most commercially successful.
To Chaplin's tramp and Keaton's sad sack, Lloyd was the eager-to-please young American go-getter, and in The Freshman he's determined to be big man on campus. Forces are against him, popularity-wise, until he makes good in a triumphant school football game.
Other highlights Sunday include The Kid Brother (10:30 p.m. ET), Lloyd's personal favorite, a Cinderella-type story about the black sheep of the family turning family opinion by the last reel and Speedy, (midnight ET) Lloyd's final silent feature, in which he tries to save the last horse-led streetcar in New York, and gets to meet his idol Babe Ruth in a Yankee Stadium cameo.
Some poor quality prints exist of limited Lloyd films on videocassette, and Suzanne Lloyd has been trying to cut a deal to produce the entire restored library on DVD, but has yet to find a manufacturer she is satisfied with.
Thus, she says she has stopped reading the messages she receives through her www.haroldlloyd.com Web site taking her to task for the non-DVD availability, "because it's just too painful."
Suzanne, an only child, was raised by her retired grandfather on Greenacres, the 18-acre Beverly Hills mansion Lloyd shared with his former leading lady and wife, Mildred. Her mother, after a divorce, fled to Switzerland.
Lloyd had made so much money from films, real estate and broadcasting investments that he didn't have to work. Suzanne was 19 when her grandfather died, and he left his films to her. Greenacres was later lost because of huge tax liabilities, but Suzanne has Lloyd's movies, photographs, posters and assorted other memorabilia in storage. She spends most waking minutes working on keeping her grandfather before the public.
"People need to know who he is," she says. "I need to carry the torch for him."
Entertainment Tonight's Leonard Maltin says that had Lloyd's films been as readily available as Chaplin's and Keaton's, "he never would have lost ground to them." Maltin's new newsletter, Leonard Maltin's Movie Crazy, takes its name from Lloyd's first 1932 talkie.
Maltin introduced Lloyd's Girl Shy at a Los Angeles screening for silent film buffs recently, and talked about the joy of watching a movie that has nothing to do with digital effects.
"Today, we know it's computers and assume we're watching a trick," he says. "He used tricks too, but the tricks were invisible, and in some ways, his illusions were more convincing than anything you could do with computers."
Case in point: When posing for a publicity still for his film Haunted Spooks, Lloyd tried to light a prop bomb with a lit cigarette. The bomb turned out to have some explosive power, and it blew up in his hand, leaving him with just two fingers.
When he recovered from the trauma, he was fitted with a prosthetic glove. Lloyd climbed the building in Safety Last! without a stunt double or fake buildings. "Which makes his stunt work all the more astonishing," says Maltin.
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