Accepting and confronting this truth has reduced traffic fatalities, enabled families to face a problem once swept under the rug, and encouraged people to take that first shaky step on the road to sobriety.
Still, if we’re completely honest, it has to be admitted a heavy cinematic price has been paid for this enlightened attitude. No one bemoans the loss of a Foster Brooks or even Dudley Moore in Arthur, but silent comedy drunks, when done by the likes of Chaplin or Keaton, well, it’s like watching a wonderfully shitfaced ballet.
Harold Lloyd’s two-reeler High and Dizzy is definitely a high point in drunken pantomime (OK. OK. Puns about drinking aren’t funny either, but that’s not because of a societal shift in attitudes. It’s because they’re puns). After getting completely blotto, Lloyd and a friend end up at a hotel where they can sleep off their afternoon drinking binge. Throw in a sleepwalking love interest, and you’ve got 26 minutes of near disasters, perfectly choreographed mayhem, and visual comedy that depends on split-second timing.
Admittedly, joke-wise, there’s not a great deal that’s new here. You get bits where two guys put on the same coat at the same time, each with an arm in one sleeve. There’s the always-reliable loading lift that arbitrarily goes up and down in a city sidewalk, rising as an inebriated Lloyd is walking down the street and about to step forward into an empty shaft, or descending and taking Lloyd out of sight just as a policeman rounds a corner.
The drunk routine is like the performance of a virtuoso piece of music. Difficult but appearing effortless. Complicated but precise and simple in execution. The drunk has three emotional gears that he can shift between: happy camaraderie, confusion, and belligerence. That’s more than enough comedic range to provide variety for a two-reeler.
Toward the end of High and Dizzy, there’s even a hint of things to come as a drunken Lloyd pursues his sleepwalking love out onto a building ledge. The sequence plays very much like an initial run-through for the high-wire antics in Safety Last! a few years later.
High and Dizzy even manages to set up and pay off a completely screwy ending, which, while both abrupt and unlikely, is still thoroughly satisfying.
Look. I know no one wants to hear this, but drunks are funny. Sometimes.
Just look at Harold Lloyd.