Never Weaken

Lloyud 5In the silent movie Never Weaken, Harold Lloyd plays a peculiar kind of protagonist. By turns duplicitous, suicidal, and cowardly, there is little about his character that endears him to the audience. He doesn’t confront his disastrous fate with the stoic optimism of a Keaton, the charming aplomb of a Chaplin, or even the boyish all-American spirit of…well, a Lloyd. All he does is survive until the end of the movie.

However, at the start, even if his methods are questionable, Lloyd has nothing but the best intentions. Determined to help his fiancée (a receptionist for an osteopath who will soon find herself unemployed if business doesn’t pick up), Lloyd takes to the streets, accompanied by an acrobat who has agreed to fake a series of spectacular, bone-shattering falls. After each staged accident, Lloyd administers violently bizarre twists and stretches to the limbs and torso of his accomplice. When the acrobat springs up and walks away good as new, Lloyd hands out the business cards of the osteopathic specialist, an impressed crowd of onlookers snapping them up.

Later in the film, convinced his fiancée no longer wants to marry him, Lloyd attempts to take his life. When poisoning, stabbing, gassing, and jumping out a window don’t work, he decides to shoot himself, tying one end of a length of string to the trigger of a gun–propped up on a desk and pointed at his chair–and attaching the other end to a doorknob. A blindfold tied over his eyes, he calls the janitor on the phone and tells him to coLloyd 1me “Quick!”—unaware that a light bulb is teetering on the edge of a nearby bookcase. It tumbles to the floor, explodes, and Lloyd melodramatically grabs his chest. Simultaneously, a girder swings through the open French windows behind him, under his chair, and then out again, taking him with it.

Clueless, suspended above the city, Lloyd hears heavenly harp music (coming from a nearby window where a music teacher instructs a student) and removes his blindfold.  He is amazed to find himself face to face with an angel (actually a winged statue on the side of a building), and for a moment, not only accepts his fate but seems to embrace it. Then he looks down and sees the street—thirty stories below. His life in imminent danger, all thought of suicide vanishes, and Lloyd clings to the girder for dear life.

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High and Dizzy

H&D 1Drunks are not funny.

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.                                             H&D 2

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.

Harold Lloyd.  High and Dizzy.