Saturday, January 16, 2010

Guest post: The Kid Brother (1927)

The Kid Brother
Director: Ted Wilde
USA 1927
82 min
Starring: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Walter James, Leo Willis, Olin Francis, Eddie Boland, Ralph Yearsley and Constantine Romanoff, among others.

A film review by my first guest blogger:

Elizabeth at Oh, By Jingo! Oh, By Gee!


Harold Lloyd’s magnum opus is generally considered to be “Speedy” (1928), and his most iconic film is without a doubt “Safety Last” (1923.) And while both are very charming films, I really believe that “The Kid Brother” (1927) is his true crowning achievement because it has so much more “Lloyd” to it than any of his other films. Yes, “Speedy” and “Safety Last” both have all the essential elements for a Harold Lloyd plot (a chase scene, a spunky, all-American leading man, a sweet leading lady, and a bit of rough-and-tumble stunting), but “The Kid Brother” has all this, magnified. The chase scene is so much more intense, our hero so much spunkier, our leading lady so much sweeter, and the stunting so much more dramatic (not to mention all the artistic shots of sparkling waters and green forests!) To explain…

The main characters of “The Kid Brother” are the Hickorys, leading clan of Hickoryville. The patriarch, Sheriff Jim Hickory (played by Walter James), and his two eldest sons, Leo and Olin (Leo Willis and Olin Francis respectively) are the toughest, strongest, and most respected men in town. But the youngest Hickory son, Harold (played by Harold Lloyd, of course!) is not. Harold is much smaller than his brothers, and very cowardly. His own brothers harass him terribly and force him to do all the menial chores around the house, while the neighbor’s bully-of-a-son Hank (Ralph Yearsley) teases him nonstop. However, do not despair too much for poor Harold - he’s a pretty clever little chap, and frequently manages to worm his way out of sticky situations.

The story opens with all of humble Hickoryville abuzz with the news that a dam is to be built in their river. Jim Hickory and his two eldest sons leave to go to the town meeting to collect the last of the tax money for the dam, but they leave poor Harold behind, insisting that it’s no place for boys. To occupy his time, Harold puts on his father’s badge and holster and struts around the house, pretending he is the sheriff. The bully catches sight of him acting foolish and begins to tease him, so Harold chases him away, brandishing his father’s gun. At that very moment, a travelling medicine show run by a Miss Mary Powers (played by Jobyna Ralston), and her salesman, Flash Farrell (Eddie Boland), and strong man, Sandoni (Constantine Romanoff), stop their caravan in front of his house, looking to get a permit so they can perform. Naturally, they assume Harold to be the sheriff and ask him to sign the permit. Too ashamed to admit who he really is, but too afraid to order them away, Harold signs the permit, even though he knows his father would never allow a medicine show to perform in town.

Later that afternoon, Harold meets Mary in the woods while she is trying to escape the rather brutish advances of Sandoni. Harold manages to frighten him off entirely by accident, but Mary doesn’t realize this, and falls in love with what she thinks to be a brave and courageous Harold. When Mary goes to return to the caravan, there comes the most romantic scene of the entire movie. As she walks further and further away from him, Harold, forgetting all his fears, begins to climb a tall tree ever higher and higher to wave goodbye until at last he has reached the very top of the enormous tree and Mary is entirely out of view. The whole effect is very sweet, and makes you like Harold all the more.

That evening, Jim Hickory hears of the medicine show and realizes that it was Harold who gave permission for it to perform, and sends his unfortunate son out to put a stop to it. When Harold arrives, he naturally cannot bring himself to order them away, partly out of shyness, and partly out of love for Mary. Flash and Sandoni realize that they are in no great danger, and proceed to make a laughing stock of Harold in front of the entire crowd. During the course of their taunting, Harold accidentally knocks a torch down, and the medicine show is burned to the ground, leaving Flash, Sandoni, and Mary without a home or a possession in the world. Mary is sent to live with a local family to work as a helping hand around the house, while Flash and Sandoni are left out on the streets.

After spending a rather rough night out-of-doors, Flash and Sandoni find a newspaper mentioning that the money needed to build the dam was currently resting in the Hickory home until it could be sent on to the proper authorities. Feeling no great love for either the Hickorys or Hickoryville, they plot to steal the money and frame Jim Hickory. On the very day the town was set to have a celebration for the dam, Jim discovers that the money is missing. The enraged townsfolk point the finger at him, insisting he must have embezzled it. Jim, neither fool nor thief, realizes that is must have been Flash and Sandoni, but the people of Hickoryville put him under house arrest. He deputizes his two eldest and give them the order to find those dastardly medicine show men, but snubs poor Harold. Harold, bitterly disappointed, wanders away from the house until he runs into Mary. He confesses to her that he isn’t the courageous man that he’s been pretending to be, but is in fact just the put-upon little brother. In proper silent sweetheart style, she insists that Harold is only as brave as he wants to be, and that she has absolute faith in him no matter what. The townsfolk suddenly spot the two of them together and seeing as the two of them aren’t particularly popular at the moment, they put Mary under arrest and knock out Harold when he tries to defend her. The town bully, in a particularly vicious move, dumps the unconscious Harold into a rowboat and sets it out to drift down the river.

When at last Harold come to, he finds that his rowboat has struck against the side of an abandoned, half-sunken ship. Harold suspects the villains to be onboard and decides to investigate. Sure enough, they are inside counting the dam money (no pun intended.) Sandoni and Flash both realize that the other is cheating and start a fight that ends with Sandoni strangling Flash. Harold witnesses the entire ordeal, but can’t move from his hiding place without being spotted. Unfortunately, the medicine show monkey gives away Harold’s hiding place, and a blood-thirsty Sandoni gives him chase around the ship.

Harold Lloyd’s films always feature a chase scene, but this one out of all his films is undoubtedly the most dangerous. Harold is generally only trying to escape arrest by an irate, rather dim-witted cop, or perhaps he’s trying to get to his wedding on time. But during this chase it is made very clear – Harold is running for his very life, and Sandoni WILL kill him if he gets the chance. There are a couple of gags during the chase to lighten the mood a little bit, but there is no denying that these circumstances are very terrifying, and potentially very gruesome. To add to the mood, back on dry land we see the other Hickory brothers return with the report that neither Flash nor Sandoni could be found, which then brings the townsfolk to the horrifying conclusion that Jim MUST be the thief, and that he should hang for his crime (whatever happened to a right to a trial with jury?)

Back on the ship, when Sandoni manages to catch up to him, Harold realizes (thanks to a random stroke of luck) that Sandoni’s Achilles Heel is that he can’t swim. Harold manages to take the fight to the river, and finally knocks the villain out. In a very funny sequence, Harold ties him up and traps him inside of a massive tower of life rings, and begins to sail down the river on the back of the now buoyant Sandoni. When they reach land, tension really reaches an all-time high as we switch between shots of a desperate Harold racing in a horse and wagon team, and the townsfolk grimly leading Jim to the gallows. Just when all seems lost, Harold pulls up and proves his father’s innocence by handing over Sandoni and the stolen cash. Everything ends out just peachy for our hero – his father accepts him as a man, the bully gets a good trouncing, and he and Mary walk off into the horizon together.

Just like so many other silent films, for all of the grim tension that features throughout the movie, we know right from the start that in the end our hero will get the girl and everything will end out fine. But honestly, would you have it any other way? And besides, only Lloyd could make the tension more grim, a chase scene with more at stake, and the final winning of the girl more sweet and romantic.


Thank you for the marvelous review, Elizabeth!  //Lolita

Jobyna Ralston
(Colorized by Lolita)


Elizabeth said...

Oooh I love your colorization of Jobyna! You picked some really great pictures, too! Thank you again for picking me as your first guest blogger!

Lolita said...

Oh, thanks! It's fun to colorize - it helps imagining how people looked like! I mean, let's face it - it's hard to think of classic actors/actresses as "real" persons ;)
And thank you, you did a great job with the review!

Mykal said...

Elizabeth: Really excellent post. Very detailed and very insightful. Very well done! I love when the silents stars, so close to being forgotten, are given this kind of fine treatment! -- Mykal

Anonymous said...

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Matthew Coniam said...

Great stuff, Elizabeth. This is one of my favourite Harolds too, not least because it's got that little monkey in it. Of all the silent comedians, he's best for working gags into a narrative that would hold your attention even without them. I suppose The General does that too, but Lloyd does it over and over, and rarely better than here.
By the way, I love the previous comment about filching this for use in somebody's assignment.

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