Silents were golden, if Lloyd was in them

Critic's Choice

Film

April 20, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach

One of filmdom's greatest comedic actors, too-long absent from our cinematic consciousness, is getting a welcome showcase on Turner Classic Movies this month.

Harold Lloyd was once one of Hollywood's biggest stars, for a time even more popular than Charlie Chaplin. His everyman character, complete with straw hat, prominent black eyeglasses and an expression that would shift (sometimes within moments) from befuddlement to exasperation to joy, left silent-film audiences roaring. Even today, as modern filmgoers have forgotten how to watch movies sans dialogue, his daredevil acrobatics, his elaborate car chases and his relentless good humor and resourcefulness haven't lost their ability to delight.

Sunday evenings this month, Lloyd's granddaughter, Suzanne, who has served as executor of his estate (he died in 1971), has been serving as host (along with TCM's avuncular Robert Osborne) of a retrospective of her grandfather's works, and the results have been a film lover's dream. Especially welcome has been the chance to see Lloyd's talking films, which showed how well (and apparently effortlessly) he adapted to the new technology.

Tonight's offerings begin with Lloyd's most famous film, 1923's Safety Last, in which he plays a last-minute substitute for a human fly. The film includes the trademark image of him dangling from a skyscraper's clock tower (in 1990, Time magazine used that image on its cover, for a story about anxiety). Seven more silents follow: 1921's Never Weaken (9:30 p.m.), 1923's Why Worry? (10 p.m.), 1924's Girl Shy (11:15 p.m., and featuring one of the all-time great chases), 1924's Hot Water (12:45 a.m.), 1921's Now or Never (2 a.m.), 1919's Ask Father (3:15 a.m.) and 1919's Billy Blazes, Esq.

The series ends next Sunday with seven more silents, beginning at 9:30 p.m. The evening will begin with 1962's Harold Lloyd's World of Comedy, a compilation, overseen by Lloyd himself, of some of his best work.

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