In a previous post, I included Safety Last as Lloyd’s masterpiece. Harold staring wildly through his idiosyncratic horn-rimmed glasses as he dangles from a clock face is a ubiquitous image of the comedy Golden Age. However, Lloyd was most satisfied with The Kid Brother, a film he proudly displayed at film schools and cinematic events long after the premier. This pride and high expectation for this piece originates from Lloyd hiring eight gag men to fill every available second with more laughs than any of his previous catalogue. And he just may have succeeded.
The story takes place in Hickoryville, named after the Hickorys. The patriarch is a Sheriff and most respected man in town and his sons are tough brutes who appear to eat Harold sized breakfasts each morning. Harold, as youngest and weediest of the testosterone fuelled family must use his wits to win the respect of his father and the love of Mary, and when the town’s money goes missing, it may just be Harold’s chance.
When Lloyd challenged his eight gag writers to create every possible comedic mishap to befall poor old Harold, it appears they found time for their gags by expelling the story. But this is no great criticism. Long sequences of Harold dipping and diving to avoid a beating from his brothers are balletic and inventive, even in the most simple of tasks. In the opening, Harold chases after blown away washing, scaling trees, dealing with his neighbour nemesis and rushing back before his father finds out. It tells us little narratively, but Harold’s everyman resourcefulness and unbounded athleticism capture the hearts of first time viewers and excite the same adoration in the faithfully acquainted.
Harold is equally talented at touching audience’s hearts as he is at tickling funny bones. Harold may be clever enough to outsmart his brothers, but he longs to be a man and have the respect of his family. After his father and brothers leave Harold behind for an important meeting, the youngest dresses in his father’s Sherif outfit. He smiles satisfied until he spots a scowling photograph of his father. Harold is a very relatable everyman because his desires are simpler than love and usually depend on attempting to better himself.
The Kid Brother’s most intriguing characteristic, which elevates it to the stature of the greats, is that Harold exhibits a dramatic change.
Old Stony Face has an inexorable equanimity in great danger, and Chaplin remains forever a lovable ruffian as he waddles off on his next adventure. However, Harold evolves. Harold accidentally tracks down the thieves to an abandoned ship and makes several attempts to steal back the money in his usual quick thinking trickery. He secures his shoes to a pet monkey as a distraction, balances a pipe in the window as a mock gun barrel and athletically rolls and dives over and under every compartment. But Lloyd changes tempo when he takes charge of the situation.
A climatic struggle erupts. Both men desperately punch and kick across the rotting ship. Harold receives punch after punch, and through dirt and blood shines the handsome face of a leading man, a role he could have succeeded playing in another lifetime. Finally, Harold triumphs, and utterly changes our perception of his character. Shunning the attire of the accidental lead and donning the persona of a romantic hero.
All without losing his glasses.
The jokes are fast and furious and the romance as sweet as ever. It is both hilarious and inventive in which Harold secures the title of the Third Genius and offers a fresh facade as a hero.
Harold has met the love of his life. A beautiful woman. As she walks away, Harold suddenly remembers something. He climbs a tree until she is in view. ‘What is your name?’ Mary she answers and off she walks. Then another lightbulb and Harold climbs further, the camera drifting weightlessly with him. ‘Where do you live?’, she answers and walks out of shot. And once more, Harold climbs further for a final ‘Goodbye!’. Harold sighs dreamily before reality hits home and the floor hits harder. This shot was obtained with great difficulty at the time, but it moves with the seamless precision of a genius.