We’ve reached the halfway point with our continued adventures with silent film comedian Harold Lloyd, and as we move forward in Lloyd’s filmography the films just ain’t what they used to be.
As I mentioned in my review of The Freshman (1925), part of my fluctuating enjoyment probably stems from my inappropriate viewing situation; Lloyd’s films are meant to be enjoyed with an audience. In The Freshman’s case I had audio commentors helping but both Safety Last! (1923) and today’s film, Speedy, lacked outside voices.
Speedy (Lloyd; a nickname Lloyd was known by, as well as his nickname in The Freshman) has trouble holding on to a job. When his girlfriend’s grandfather, Pops (Burt Woodruff) is threatened with losing his horse-drawn buggy to the trolley men Speedy gets a chance to save the day.
Speedy’s plot is immediately familiar to those who have watched other works in Lloyd’s oeuvre. Like The Freshman and Safety Last! Harold is a hardscrabble young man with big dreams of making good. But, unlike those latter films, Speedy gets a chance to be more playful than his previous incarnations. His blind adoration to baseball sees him trying to keep score while working as a soda-jerk and in his work as a cabbie, he’s actually given the opportunity to transport the legendary Babe Ruth to the stadium.
The main issue, for me, involved the herky-jerky plot. Though I’m used to Lloyd’s films building themselves around big stunt pieces, there’s an abrupt lack of them until the final third of the plot, and if Lloyd’s building around a car chase there had to be stronger narrative threads to build the denounement upon. His divergences from the track are understandable, as Speedy’s all about finding joy in what you can, regardless of money, but it does leave everything feeling rather loose.
Lloyd crafts a series of vignettes that are sitcom-esque with the tenuous connection of helping Pop get the right price for his horse-drawn streetcar. However, before we’re told that, we watch Harold navigate the harsh world of New York City, where the intertitles claim people frantically spend their time toiling in the hopes of getting just one day ahead. Speedy as the loveable soda-jerk has dreams of making a life with Jane Dillon (Ann Christy), but she’s worried about her poor grandfather, and we’ve come full circle.
Lloyd breaks up the film’s own toil through an extended sequence at Coney Island. Watching Lloyd and Christy on Coney Island in 1928 is the film’s highlight; Lloyd’s usage of “time capsule” moments, like The Freshman’s legendary football game, give us great snippets of items we’ll never see in the flesh. The rides are a lawsuit lover’s dream, but, mostly importantly, it allows the characters a moment’s respite. Lloyd and Christy are master’s of fun – with Lloyd flipping the bird to a mirror in a moment the censors obviously failed to catch – culminating with a running gag involving Lloyd’s inability to keep his new suit clean (problems anyone can relate to). A sequence with them hitching a ride on a truck gives the audience a chance to learn about why they haven’t married, and the home of their own creation (complete with bespectacled Lloyd twins) is sweet and poignant.
After that we’re treated to Speedy’s revolving door of jobs, and the settling of the railroad plotline. The various jobs is pure Lloyd with gags flying a mile a minute. The variety of Speedy’s fares sees him chased by policemen, commandeered by detectives, and ending up a baseball game at the behest of Babe Ruth. All of these individual pieces, coupled with the Coney Island sequence, could have told a tale of finding the sweet within the sour, or the happiness in the mad rush of city life. Pops and the trolley plotline lacks the proper development for us to adequately care about it. The whole thing comes off as ill-constructed as Speedy’s call to arms helping Pops. The big car chase, including an unplanned crash into an elevated train support, explains the inclusion for Pops’ storyline, but up till now Lloyd’s strengths as an actor lie in his desire to make good. His role as a man of action is good, but it leaves Lloyd at a disadvantage, character-wise.
None of the Lloyd films are outright failures but Speedy’s my least favorite of the current trio.
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