Friday, November 2, 2012

A Trip to the Music Box Theatre with Georges Méliès

I never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to see these films, all of them around 110 years old, on a theater screen being presented by Méliès’ family. Last Saturday, The Music Box Theatre and Alliance Francais paid tribute to one of the great pioneers of silent film. Recently, Martin Scorsese honored the work and influence of Méliès through the film “Hugo,” but the sad truth is that the recognition Méliès now receives follows decades of being forgotten by the public. Although his work "A Trip to the Moon" remains one of the most iconic films of the silent era, it was pirated by American studios (Thomas Edison's studio being one of the most notable offenders), preventing Méliès from benefiting financially and enjoying the success he deserved. In the years since his death, however, film scholars and fans have come to appreciate and respect Méliès for all of his contributions to cinema, and his family is still proudly presenting his work around the world.

Beginning his film career in 1896, Méliès embarked on a journey to bring a world he knew intimately -- magic -- to film. He discovered early on that there were tricks films could provide that could not be duplicated on stage. Méliès became the first filmmaker to realize the advantage that stopping the camera or blocking off portions of the film could afford -- tricks that Buster Keaton, among others, would later use to their fullest potential.

A great example of Méliès’ pioneering work in the realm of special effects can be seen in 1902’s "The Man with the Rubber Head." In the film, Méliès inflates his 'rubber' head --bearing his own features -- using forced perspective and clever editing. Clocking in at only two-and-a-half minutes, the film is short in length but nothing short of impressive.

Méliès was also a pioneer in the realm of colored film. Although Technicolor would not be introduced for another 20 years, several of Méliès’ films featured brightly colored scenes created by workers painstakingly painting clothing, flames and backgrounds, one film cell at a time. A beautiful example of this effect is preserved in “The Merry Frolics of Satan” from 1906.

In recognition of his 150th birthday, Méliès’ great-granddaughter Marie-Hélène Lehérissey-Méliès and great-great-grandson Lawrence Lehérissey-Méliès have been touring with “The Man with the Rubber Head,” “The Witch” and 14 other films spanning Méliès’ career, and presenting them to audiences around the world with live narration and piano accompaniment. For the Chicago engagement, actress Barbara Robertson provided the narration in English. The narration and musical accompaniment approximate the experience that filmgoers would have experienced in the early days of film, and this particular experience was made even more special by the excited crowd, full theater and The Music Box’s starlit ceiling.

Didn’t get a chance to see the films at The Music Box? Approximate the experience with this playlist, featuring all of the films shown at the cine-concert, from the iconic “A Trip to the Moon” to the first ever product placement in a film in “Bluebeard.”

You can also read my past post on Méliès here.

Friday, August 17, 2012

An Affair in Intertitles

This post was originally published on the lonelybrand blog as part of an ongoing silent film series.

When you think of Chicago, chances are good that the musical and probably the film version of that musical spring to mind. What you might not know, though, is that both are actually based on a play that debuted in 1926, a play that inspired a silent film version the following year.

The characters Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly made their debut in the play “Chicago,” written by Maurine Dallas Watkins. Watkins was a writer for the Chicago Tribune in the early ‘20s and based the characters on two women who dominated the headlines, and whom she had covered for the paper, Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner respectively. They were involved in unrelated cases, but both women were both charged with shooting and killing their lovers. Incredibly, they were both later acquitted of murder charges.

Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner (negatives from the Chicago Daily News archives)

Watkins penned the play and it premiered on Broadway in late December 1926 and ran for 172 performances. Hollywood took note and Cecil B. DeMille quickly snapped up the rights (for $25,000 - the equivalent of $320,000 today) to produce a film adaptation and tapping the beautiful Phyllis Haver to play the lead role of Roxie Hart. Although Frank Urson is credited as director, DeMille actually directed most of the film.

Phyllis Haver as Roxie Hart 

The story follows Roxie Hart, a gold-digging jazz singer looking to make a name for herself who takes advantage of her husband’s devotion to her. After her lover ends their affair, she shoots him in a state of rage and is terrified that she’ll be tried and put to death. She lies to her husband, saying the man was attempting to rob and violate her, and although he suspects the truth, he agrees to take the blame for her. The fact that Roxie was the killer gets out and the papers are instantly fascinated with her, something that Roxie relishes. The game quickly becomes one of manipulation, presenting Roxie as something she’s not to sway the judge, jury, press and court audience. Although Roxie quite literally gets away with murder, she ends up without a husband, without a home and with nothing but the clothes on her back. Not even the public cares enough to notice her, because they’ve already moved on to the next murderous adulteress.

Previously, Phyllis Haver was with Marie Prevost and Gloria Swanson as one of Mack Sennett’s famous Bathing Beauties. Although the Beauties were famous for their looks, all three went on to prove their talent as true film stars, and Haver’s performance as Roxie remains one of her best. Roxie’s flirty, manipulative, limelight-craving nature endears and disgusts the audience at the same time, and Haver’s performance stands the test of time. When the film was released in late December 1927, Photoplay hailed her performance, saying, "[T]he picture belongs to Phyllis Haver, who gives a marvelous characterization. We agree with Mr. De Mille that she is his greatest ‘find’ since Gloria Swanson. Of course, nobody will miss seeing ‘Chicago.’”

 Roxie and Velma are separated during a cat fight in prison.

This adaptation, as well as the original play version of “Chicago,” later served as inspiration for the 1942 romantic comedy adaptation “Roxie Hart” (starring Ginger Rogers), the 1975 musical stage version and the 2002 film version of the musical. This is even more incredible considering the fact that, for years, the film was thought to be lost. The unstable nature of vintage nitrate films, the frequency of film vault fires and a lack of organized preservation for posterity have all played a part in the loss of many, many films from the silent and early talkie era. In fact, Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation estimates that over 90% of the films made before 1929 have been lost forever. But, as copyrights expire, and time goes by, some “lost” films are being rediscovered and restored. Such is the case with “Chicago.” Incredibly, a perfect print of the film was discovered in DeMille’s archives, and in 2006, the UCLA Film and Television Archive restored and released the print. Interested in seeing more? Check out the entire film, courtesy of Fandor.

Chicago served as more than just the backdrop for Roxie Hart’s run-ins with the law. During the early days of silent film, it was the home of many major film studios, and even briefly served as Charlie Chaplin’s home. Learn more about Chicago’s silent film past.

Friday, July 6, 2012

“Plastigrams” – The 3-D Silent Film

Although the success of "Avatar" has, unfortunately, helped to introduce a flood of films banking on the lure of 3-D effects, 3-D films are nothing new. In fact, the earliest 3-D films were created during the silent film era. Early in the days of silent film, films were typically one to two reels long, limiting the total film length to about 10-20 minutes. Once studio heads realized that audiences would, in fact, be willing to sit through a feature-length film, they began to add more and more reels. But short films were never entirely discarded. Often a short film or two would accompany a feature-length film in a theater, or short films would be used as part of an evening's entertainment during a vaudeville show. The short film format also remained a great testing ground for the more experimental filmmakers and those interested in creating novelty films. One of these novelty films was also one of the first 3-D films, "Plastigrams."

Released in 1922 by Educational Pictures, "Plastigrams" was presented by E.W. Hammons using the Ives-Leventhal stereoscopic process. Much like the traditional "3-D" comics and postcards, the film used offset blue and red images to create its dimensional effect. Although this effect seems rather crude to us now, it was groundbreaking for audiences at the time. Upon viewing it for the first time, The Film Daily described the experience like this,
“The effect is, at first, startling and then amusing. The object of ‘Plastigrams’ is apparently to afford thrills for the audience. You look through the glasses and the objects on the screen appear to jump out at you. For instance, pictures of a crawling turtle, after being viewed for a moment, take the form of actuality and the turtle appears to be right up to your nose. Objects selected are, of course, of a nature to provide thrills such as, a hose pointed toward you, traffic jams in which you fear an impact at any moment, etc. A first rate novelty and wholly amusing.” 
When Lee DeForest began experimenting with recording sound on film, "Plastigrams" even became one of the first films to boast it during its re-release in 1924 -- three years before the debut of the talkie "The Jazz Singer." Even the marketing tactics used to advertise the film were inventive and ahead of their time. In one theater, an 11" x 14" lobby card was put on display. The card displayed images that used the same 3-D technique as the film, and a pair of 3-D glasses was suspended from the ceiling, allowing patrons to witness the effect first-hand before even purchasing a ticket.

The success and novelty of "Plastigrams" later helped usher in the 3-D film craze in the '50s and, indirectly, the present day obsession with 3-D. You can watch "Plastigrams" below. Keep in mind that the 3-D glasses of the period, however, featured blue lenses on the left and red lenses on the right - the reverse of the glasses today.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Laemmle Luck and Publicity Stunts

This post was originally published on the lonelybrand blog as part of an ongoing silent film series.

Although you may not know the name Carl Laemmle, you undoubtedly know the studio he helped create -- Universal Pictures. Laemmle came to the U.S. from Germany in 1884 and settled in Chicago where he worked as a bookkeeper for 20 years. As nickelodeons grew in popularity, he got involved in the world of film, creating International Motion Pictures (IMP) in 1909 and Universal Pictures in 1912. Universal Pictures is now the oldest movie company in the U.S., and the second oldest company still in production in the world (the first being Gaumont). Of course, Universal didn’t become successful by chance. The studio's success was due to a bit of Laemmle Luck, in the form of a combination of respected actors, great storylines and effective advertising.

Laemmle was a master of promotion. IMP was one of the first studios to credit and promote its stars by name, which helped make them household names. It also used those names, and the public’s adoration of them, to create effective publicity stunts and advertising campaigns to drum up more interest in the studios. One of the actresses most often used in these campaigns was Florence Lawrence, also known as the IMP girl.

Florence Lawrence

Lawrence was one of the first true movie stars, so when a rumor surfaced that she had been involved in a horrific fatal accident with a street car, the public was distraught and heartbroken. Shortly after that, an ad began running in trade papers and newspapers that debunked the rumor, calling it a cowardly lie. It also mentioned that Lawrence would be appearing in a new IMP film very soon.

Florence Lawrence

In truth, the rumor was created by Carl Laemmle himself as a publicity stunt.

Although Lawrence worked for several film companies during her career, whenever she returned to Laemmle, he made sure to take out ads for it in the trade papers. During one of her first returns, Laemmle took out a full page ad that was constructed as a letter from Lawrence to the theater owners that exhibited Universal films.

Florence Lawrence

When she began to approach the end of her career, Laemmle staged Lawrence for a comeback, using a clever technique that involved purchasing multiple pages of advertising in the trade papers that alluded to a comeback, without giving away all of the information at once. The first ad ran in the January 1, 1916 issue of Moving Picture World, and acted as an effective lead-in to the ad that ran the following week.

Florence Lawrence

Laemmle then adapted this technique for his next attempted comeback with fading child star Ethel Grandin. This time, he spread the advertisements out over three weeks, with the first appearing in the February 26, 1916 issue of Moving Picture World.

Ethel Grandin

For more of these great vintage ads, check out my Pinterest board devoted to silent film ads.

Friday, April 13, 2012

"Safety Last!" and the Draw of the Human Fly

This post was originally published on the lonelybrand blog as part of an ongoing silent film series.

silent film

Chances are, even if you haven’t seen a single silent film, you’re still familiar with this image. It’s an iconic shot that has been recreated by the likes of Christopher Lloyd in "Back to the Future," Asa Butterfield in “Hugo” and Jackie Chan on several occasions, but the man who started it all, and is featured in the photo above, is silent film comedian Harold Lloyd.

silent film

You might remember that Lloyd went through several character transformations, including the Chaplin-esque Lonesome Luke, before settling on his ‘glasses’ persona -- the character that brought him silent film immortality. Although Lloyd was considered the everyman, unlike Chaplin and Buster Keaton, his character seemed to find his way into the most bizarre situations. The best examples of which can be found in his thrill comedies like “Safety Last!” -- the film that gave birth to the iconic image above. What’s interesting about the film is that it was born out of a marketing and publicity stunt.

silent film, man hanging off a building

In the 1910s and 1920s, department stores would often employ ‘human flies’ to bring publicity and attention to their businesses. Lloyd witnessed one of these stunts firsthand when he saw Bill Strother climbing the Brockman Building in Los Angeles as a stunt. Lloyd was fascinated and terrified, and hid behind a corner, occasionally peeking to check on Strother's progress. When Strother reached the roof, Lloyd went up and introduced himself. After seeing the event unfold before him, Lloyd got the idea to translate that stunt into a film and gave Strother a role as his best friend.

The climax of the film involves Lloyd hilariously and clumsily recreating the human fly stunt that he saw Strother perform. Of course, a number of obstacles get in his way, including a flock of pigeons and a relatively flimsy clockface. The climbing sequence itself represents a high point in silent film stunts and was such a hit with audiences that Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton and even Lloyd himself would recreate versions of it in later films. The fact that Lloyd wasn't working in front of a matte painting or a rear projection, and really was as far up the building as he appeared to be, thrilled and terrified audiences, and continues to do so today. The fact that Lloyd did this stunt after losing his right index finger and thumb during an accident on the set of an earlier film is even more astounding. You can watch the climbing sequence below.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Cashing in on Chaplin

This post was originally published on the lonelybrand blog as part of an ongoing silent film series.

A favorite practice in silent film was for studios to find their version of the hottest star of the moment. Even studios who were fortunate enough to have signed the original star were constantly looking for replacements. Theda Bara called Fox Studios home for years, but when she left, the studio began to promote Betty Blythe as their new vamp. They even cast her in roles that were incredibly similar to those portrayed by Bara.

Imitators, replacements and second-stringers meant that the studios stood a chance to indirectly profit off of the most popular stars, even if they were signed elsewhere or unavailable. At a point in his career, Charlie Chaplin was the most recognizable figure in the world. He was one of the first silent film stars to become recognized internationally as a movie star, and was a guaranteed sure-thing for any studio or any theater that acquired him or his films. It should come as no surprise, then, that studios and aspiring actors and comedians would look to Chaplin for inspiration. Soon, many were cashing in on imitating Chaplin, and one imitator in particular made no effort to hide it.

Billy West was the best known of the Chaplin imitators. When the public was demanding more and more Chaplin films, a producer saw an opportunity and signed West to profit from that demand. His appearance (in costume) was identical to Chaplin and his films also borrowed heavily from Chaplin, so much so that the casual observer could mistake him for the real deal. West was signed to King-Bee and his heyday lasted from 1917-1918 -- when Chaplin was signed to Mutual. His studio even went so far as to call West “The Funniest Man on Earth.” Although West was the star of the pictures, his on-screen success was shortlived and certainly outshined by his on-screen foe Oliver "Babe" Hardy (later of Laurel and Hardy) and on-screen love Leatrice Joy. By 1920, West had given up his ‘tramp’ persona. To get a sense of West’s early films, check out ‘The Candy Kid’ below.

Silent film favorite Harold Lloyd found early success with his ‘Lonesome Luke’ character, which was also a nod to Chaplin. Unlike West, Lloyd was almost a parody of Chaplin. His costume was almost a reversal of Chaplin’s -- the clothes were ridiculously small instead of too big, he replaced the hat and divided the mustache down the middle. Although Lloyd found success with the “Luke” series, he, like West, eventually felt restricted by the persona. When Lloyd abandoned the ‘Luke’ persona and adopted his ‘glasses’ persona, he found a character that was truly his own and that proved to be a true box office threat to Chaplin.

Curious about Harold Lloyd's career post-Lonesome Luke? Check out my review for his feature film "The Kid Brother."

Friday, March 30, 2012

Chaplin in Chicago

This post was originally published on the lonelybrand blog as part of an ongoing silent film series.

Last week, I mentioned that Chicago played host to many large, well-known studios from the silent film era, including Essanay Studios which claimed Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson and Ben Turpin as their own for a period of time. In the brief time that Chaplin lived in Chicago, he starred in a short film that featured Turpin *and* Swanson. That film was “His New Job.”

When Chaplin joined Essanay in 1915 it was huge news in the world of film. Chaplin had grown tired of Mack Sennett’s knockabout, slapstick Keystone comedies and longed for more subtle and clever gags than Sennett wanted. By joining Essanay, he was beginning to gain the freedom he would need to create his later masterpieces, and Essanay was reaping the benefits of having an internationally known comedian as part of their stock. And Essanay didn’t hold back when it came to announcing their acquisition.

Charlie Chaplin at Essanay

But while he was in Chicago, Chaplin remained somewhat restricted. He wasn’t yet the director of his films, and he was still expected to churn out product on a regular basis to satisfy the public’s demand for him. To make matters worse for Chaplin, Ben Turpin was pushed to be his second banana, even though the pair shared very different ideas of what was comedy and didn’t get along very well. The partnership didn’t last long, though. Upon completion, Chaplin headed for the California branch of Essanay and remained there until his contract ended and he joined Mutual the following year.

Charlie Chaplin at Essanay

“His New Job” is the only film that Chaplin filmed while in Chicago. The film doesn’t make use of its Midwest metropolitan setting, but it’s still entertaining to view as Chaplin takes a funny backstage look at the movie business, a subject that would continue to appear in comedies of the period. At the time of its release, critics were calling it the funniest comedy ever filmed. By this time, Chaplin had firmly cemented his Little Tramp character as his primary persona and was beginning to hone his characteristics and mannerisms.

Charlie Chaplin at Essanay

You can watch the full short, featuring Chaplin, Turpin and Gloria Swanson, in an uncredited role, below.

For more silent film ads from Essanay and Chaplin, check out my Pinterest boards.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Chicago's Silent Film Past

This post was originally published on the lonelybrand blog as part of an ongoing silent film series.

Chicago has had its fair share of films. Of course, the John Hughes films rank at the top of the list, along with the likes of “The Dark Knight” and, as much as I hate to acknowledge it, “Transformers.” What you might not realize, though, is that in the early days of silent film, Chicago ranked with the likes of Hollywood and Fort Lee, New Jersey in terms of film production.

In addition to other studios, Essanay, American Film Manufacturing Company and Selig Polyscope Company all originated in Chicago. Because of the unpredictability of Midwestern weather, and imposition from The Motion Picture Patents Company, they all eventually expanded into California with western branches of their offices. While they were in Illinois, though, many films were actually produced in the city and featured stars of the day including Ben Turpin, Gloria Swanson and Colleen Moore.
Essanay was founded by George K. Spoor and G.M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson in 1907. Originally, the company’s biggest film attractions were the sagas of Broncho Billy, but when the company was able to steal Charlie Chaplin away from Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios, the string of films he made for them became their biggest, most popular hits (a subject I’ll address more in a future blog post!).

The American Film Manufacturing Company was founded in 1910 by Samuel Hutchinson, John Freuler, Charles Hite and Harry Aitken. After the studio moved to Santa Barbara, it enjoyed the height of its power and popularity and was the home of the incredibly popular actress Mary Miles Minter. Not only did Essanay and American share a birth place, they also shared talent. Allan Dwan, one of the top directors of the period, was originally a scriptwriter for Essanay and then went on to operate Flying A for a year.
American Film Manufacturing company

The elder statesman of the group, and the least known, though would be the Selig Polyscope Company. It was founded in 1896 by William Selig and became the first studio to erect a permanent studio in Southern California. Selig had introduced a zoo to the California branch, and when the company ended film production in 1918, the zoo was maintained into the 1930s. Apparently, Selig was a mysterious figure. Few photos of him were published, leading to fun sketches like this “artist’s conception.”
W.N. Selig

Many of the Selig Polyscope films have been destroyed over time, but one that remains is “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Selig helped produce “The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays,” an early adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” works, but the show was canned after only a few months. “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was created to fulfill a contractual obligation and made without direct input from Baum.

Intrigued by a 1910 version of “The Wizard of Oz?” Then check out the restored version of the film below. 

You can also see more vintage silent film ads over on my Pinterest boards.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Edwin S. Porter and “The Great Train Robbery”

The Great Train Robbery

In the words of Adolph Zukor, Edwin S. Porter was more of an artistic mechanic than a dramatic artist. This glimpse into the personality and mind of Porter tells us much about the man behind one of the most famous silent films of all time -- “The Great Train Robbery.”

Edwin S Porter
Edwin S. Porter
Porter was an innovative director, but his work and achievements have since been overshadowed by the work of those who followed, namely D.W. Griffith. Porter began creating films by recreating news events and even shooting people on the street. By creating narratives and editing the footage himself, Porter took editorial control away from the exhibitors, something that other directors would soon take for granted.

Porter also liked to end his films with, pardon the pun, a bang. In the documentary, “Before the Nickelodeon: The Cinema of Edwin S. Porter,” silent film star Blanche Sweet describes how Porter would borrow “the use of a final punchline from comic strips.” Probably the best-known example of this in Porter’s work is the final scene in “The Great Train Robbery” with the dramatic switch from a long shot to a closeup of cowboy who fires his gun at the viewer. Not only does it serve as a final jolt to the audience, it also breaks the fourth wall and anticipates the use of the closeup for dramatic effect.

The Great Train Robbery

The Great Train Robbery

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of “The Great Train Robbery” because it was so revolutionary in so many ways. Released in 1903, it helped establish the western as a film genre and it demonstrated how a film could be edited to convey events that are occurring simultaneously. It’s easy to forget how innovative “The Great Train Robbery” was, especially since it uses many techniques that we take for granted today. Surprisingly, Porter failed to realize what was so special about his work. As the documentary and other works on silent film detail, although Porter invented revolutionary techniques, he failed to implement them in subsequent films and failed to break through the constraints of the medium (hence Zukor's quote). In just a few years, Porter’s contributions to film were dwarfed by contributions made by some of the actors that were featured in his films (“Broncho Billy” Anderson, D.W. Griffith), often reducing his name to little more than a footnote in the history of silent film.

The Great Train Robbery
"Broncho Billy" Anderson as a tenderfoot dancer
At less than 10 minutes long, “The Great Train Robbery” serves as an excellent introduction to silent film for those who are unfamiliar with them. Though primitive compared to the work of silent film giants like Cecil B. DeMille or D.W. Griffith, the film is interesting and easy to understand, even without the use of intertitles.

You can watch “The Great Train Robbery” in its entirety below. 

The Great Train Robbery, the American Silent Western by Edwin S. Porter

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Eager to learn more about Edwin S. Porter? Check out the “Before the Nickelodeon” documentary below.


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Monday, January 9, 2012

The Kid Brother

Harold Lloyd
When you think of Harold Lloyd, chances are the image that pops into your head is this iconic shot from “Safety Last!” -- Lloyd dangling perilously off the face of a clock above bustling traffic. It’s strange, but when people speak of Harold Lloyd, they tend to pigeonhole him as a thrill comedian. Yes, Lloyd did use plots and gags devised to thrill audiences, but of the hundreds of films Lloyd made, only five of them could be called thrill pictures. It would be unfair to only examine him in that light. In fact, it would also be unfair to simply examine him as a “comedian,” because he is much more than that.

Harold Lloyd
He also cleans up very, very well...
In the ‘80s, David Gill and Kevin Brownlow did a brilliant documentary on Harold Lloyd entitled “Harold Lloyd - The Third Genius” (implying, of course, that Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton were the other two). Lloyd, Chaplin and Keaton are, without a doubt, the kings of silent comedy, but to compare them beyond that is almost unfair. Chaplin and Keaton grew up in the worlds of the English music hall and vaudeville, clowning in front of audiences, so by the time they entered the world of film, their transition was, for the most part, smooth. Yes, it took a while for them to establish their respective characters, but they understood how to be funny. Lloyd did not have that kind of background. He was an actor who, in a matter of speaking, had to learn to be funny. The refining of technique that Chaplin and Keaton honed on the road, Lloyd did real-time in front of a cameraman. The fact that Lloyd’s background was as an actor and not as a comedian allowed him to give performances that, honestly, I’m not sure Keaton or Chaplin could have done.

I thoroughly enjoy Lloyd’s thrill pictures, but my favorite Lloyd film is not “Safety Last!” or “Never Weaken.” In fact, it’s a film that he made years after “Safety Last!” It’s a beautiful, funny, sweet little film called “The Kid Brother.”
The Kid Brother (1927)

The Kid Brother
The Story

No matter how hard he tries, Harold Hickory (Harold Lloyd) can’t seem to get above his ‘kid brother’ image. Relegated to doing little more than the housekeeping duties of the farm, Harold just can’t gain the respect of his brothers or, worse yet, his father, Sheriff Hickory. He’s intelligent and clever, but frequently he finds himself daydreaming that he's the tough and rugged man his father is. But just as quickly, he’s pulled from those daydreams, be it because of a glance in the mirror or a mean-spirited prank created by his sworn enemy Hank Hooper.

The Kid Brother
Mary (Jobyna Ralston) enters Harold’s life quite unexpectedly. After inheriting her father’s medicine show, Mary is reluctant to keep it on the road. Especially considering the other members of the show, the shady Flash and frightening Sandoni. 
Jobyna Ralston
As Harold is daydreaming, wearing his father’s badge and hat, Flash stops to get his approval to put on the show. Harold hasn’t the heart or the nerve to tell him he can’t, so he reluctantly signs the permit as Mary watches from afar.
The Kid Brother
Feeling guilty, Harold wanders through the woods and comes to Mary’s aid as she is being lustfully pursued by Sandoni. Wielding a branch -- and unaware of the fact that there is a snake wrapped around it -- Harold frightens Sandoni away and he and Mary immediately fall for one another. 
The Kid Brother
Harold’s father learns that the medicine show has set up shop because of Harold, so he forces him to go into town and shut it down. Knowing that Mary is a part of the show, Harold is even more reluctant to raise his voice. He is immediately mocked by Flash, Sandoni and Hank, and by the time his father and brothers intervene, the medicine show trailer and stage have burned to the ground, leaving nothing behind.

Upset by her loss, Mary looks for comfort in Harold and he, being a true gentleman, takes her home with him to give her a proper place to spend the night. A brilliant sequence follows that involves Harold attempting to avoid his brothers and Harold’s brothers attempting to avoid Mary, all the while Harold is treating Mary like a queen. Once they are settling in for the night, the Hoopers show up to take Mary to their house, claiming it isn’t decent for her to stay in a house with no womenfolk.
The Kid Brother
Harold's brothers get locked out in the rain trying to avoid Mary...
The Kid Brother
...and wait at the top of the stairs to get their revenge on Harold.
Knowing his brothers are waiting at the top of the stairs to pummel him, Harold takes advantage of their ignorance of the situation and sleeps in the partitioned part of the dining room that he had created for Mary. What he didn’t expect is that his brothers would try to impress Mary with breakfast in bed the next morning, forcing Harold to carefully hide his identity behind his walls of Jericho, as Clark Gable would say. This leads to a brilliant reveal and chase that is so detailed, to try to recall it here would not do it justice.
The Kid Brother
Harold impersonates Mary...
The Kid Brother
...and reaps the benefits.
While Harold is narrowly avoiding his brothers, we learn that Flash and Sandoni, eager for money and revenge on the Hickorys, have stolen the money the town had put towards building a new dam. This causes the Hoopers and the rest of the townsfolk to suspect Sheriff Hickory has kept the money for himself. Harold’s brothers immediately set off to search for Flash and Sandoni, both whom Sheriff Hickory suspects almost immediately, but when Harold goes to join them, his father tells him it’s not his place to do so.

Wanting to prove himself, and falling victim, once again, to Hank Hooper, Harold serendipitously arrives at a boat housing Flash and Sandoni for the time being. A fight breaks out between Flash and Sandoni as Sandoni, wanting all of the money for himself, beats up and locks Flash in a trap door of the ship. Harold, who had been hiding, is revealed by Sandoni’s thieving monkey and a fight ensues.

The Kid Brother
Harold captures Sandoni with life saver rings...
The Kid Brother
...and carts him back to town.
When Harold finally incapacitates Sandoni, he rushes back into town with Sandoni and the money, to clear his father’s name. Lauded as a hero, Harold has finally earned his father and brothers respect, as well as that of the entire town. Riding high, Harold takes one last shot at Hank, leaving him in the dust as he and Mary walk off, arms around each other.
The Kid Brother
The End Result

This film, along with “Grandma’s Boy,” are the best examples of Harold Lloyd’s acting ability as well as his comedic talent. It combines some of Lloyd’s greatest gags with romance, action, and, yes, a bit of drama. It really combines the best of all worlds.

The confidence Lloyd shows in himself and the cleverness of his character make us laugh while, at the same time, charming us. Others have said that two of the elements that separated Lloyd from Keaton or Chaplin were 1) The audience could easily believe Lloyd as a real person and 2) The audience could easily envision Lloyd as a romantic interest. Both of these qualities are beautifully illustrated shortly after Harold and Mary meet.

The Kid Brother
As Mary takes leave of Harold to return to Flash and Sandoni and begins to wander out of sight, Harold, not wanting her to go just yet, climbs higher and higher in a nearby tree so that he may catch a glimpse of her and yell his goodbyes. Lloyd’s heartfelt sighs and daydreamy bliss are then comically disrupted when he falls out of the tree and then, unhurt, begins plucking the petals off of a flower, reciting, “She loves me...she loves me not..." It's difficult to envision either Keaton or Chaplin taking Lloyd's place in this scene. The sequence is sweet and full of emotion, without sacrificing humor for sentiment. You can watch it below.

Although “The Kid Brother” is definitely not a thrill comedy, Lloyd has plenty of opportunities to show off his incredible athleticism. From taking on Sandoni in the bowels of the ship, -- much of it done underwater, no less -- to numerous chase sequences, Lloyd takes it all on without a stunt double.

The gags in the film are too numerous to mention. Lloyd and his writers were in top form during the writing of "The Kid Brother" and use every available opening to insert a joke. And contrary to what one may assume with such a joke-heavy film, none of them feel forced and all are in keeping with the tone of the film. Whether it's a gag to further illustrate Harold's intelligence at outwitting his romantic rival, or a desperate attempt on Harold's part to stay away from his bully brothers, all of the gags work incredibly well together.
The Kid Brother
Harold fools Hank by placing his hat on a helpful pig.
The Kid Brother
Attempting to outrun his brothers and talk to Mary.
“The Kid Brother” was released in 1927 which was an incredible year for film.  A number of superb, popular films were released that year, including Keaton’s “The General,” “Metropolis,” “Wings,” “It,” “Sunrise” and “The Cat and the Canary.” Also debuting in 1927 was the film that would turn the world of film upside down, “The Jazz Singer.” Even considering the competition, “The Kid Brother” still holds up as one of the strongest and best films of that year and of all time. Like “The General,” it has become a classic both for its story and its technique.

The camera work is superb, implementing sophisticated tracking shots, clever angles and beautiful lighting effects. And with the fine edition of a musical score penned by the incredible Carl Davis, it is, without a doubt, one of the finest films Lloyd ever made.

The Kid Brother