Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Making a spectacle of himself with a pair of them.

I don’t know how I happened to see at the Regal Cinema, probably in 1950 or 51, Harold Lloyd’s last movie, Mad Wednesday (aka The Sins of Harold Diddlebock). It was a full-length feature made the year India became independent. The one scene I’ve not forgotten from it is a shell-rim spectacled Lloyd, in his usual timid nice-guy character, hanging for dear life from the minute hand of a giant clock on a tower. The pair of spectacles – actually no glasses but mere frames – was his distinguishing trademark, a “positioning” prop. Lloyd’s other distinguishing characteristic was he did impossible-seeming stunts himself. It appears that he kept himself in a fighting fit condition in order to be able to do them without a double. His earlier silent films, I found out, were made without a script. Start with a central idea and go on from there was his favourite formula. He got his movie break – and bug – in San Diego when the Edison Moving Picture Company visited San Diego where he was schooling and attending a drama school as an assistant to Mr Connor in 1914. He went to work as an extra at five dollars a day and got hooked for life. He followed the Edison outfit to Los Angeles and joined the Keystone Company. There he teamed with Hal Roach in the latter’s own company. (Roach later produced Laurel and Hardy comedies.} At that time, the benchmark for a comedian, Lloyd realized, was Charlie “The Little Tramp” Chaplin with his funny baggy attire and a tiny moustache. Not wanting to be a Charlie clone or imitation, he wore tight-fitting clothes and a different kind of moustache and made 150 farcical one-reelers featuring ‘Lonesome Luke’. They – and he – made people laugh and made lots of dough too. But he wasn’t happy with what he was doing. By then, he had started “to make a serious study of comedy” (“a contradiction” to his way of thinking) after he realized that there was no “harder job in the world than to make people laugh”. Around that time, he chanced upon the pair-of-spectacles device and a different type of character, the timid nice guy, who got into doing all kinds of unexpectedly and spectacularly bizarre stunts. “Folks like to be surprised” was the logic of his new style. It worked and Lloyd became a legend in his own right. "Harold Lloyd was not a comedian. But he was the best actor to act the part of a comedian of any person I ever saw." That’s what Hal Roach once said of Lloyd. And, here's what Lloyd said about a comedian: "I feel that to be a comic is as vital and important a mission as being a physician, healing other wounds.” There’s a July 1922 interview of Harold Lloyd (The American Magazine) here:

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