Sunday, 27 October 2013

Praise the Lloyd… For Heaven's Sake (1926)


It's hard to talk about Harold Lloyd without dragging the “other two” into it, but he stands out for being perhaps the most naturalistic of the great silent comics - a perfectly ordinary guy stuck in the middle of madness.

In Charlie and Buster’s case, they were clearly asking for trouble and took it all in their relentless stride, here Lloyd is no different, but he just looks more... normal. Handsome and well-dressed, his characters represented city man against the upsets of random fortune in a world far more cruel than any of us care for.

Smartly directed by Sam Taylor and produced by Lloyd himself, this was one of the highest grossing films of 1926 – the 12th highest grossing silent film – and yet it wasn’t one of his favourites and he even considered shelving it.

It was his first feature for Paramount and maybe there’d been too much creative interference? But certainly the company’s promotional strength helped pushed the film high.

Maybe it was one of those moments when everything clicks and the audience is ready to really acknowledge the skills of the performer: maybe Lloyd was owed some more success. He made many films in the Twenties and grossed more than Chaplin’s even though that was more through weight of numbers: Charlie took his time. With For Heaven’s Sake, maybe he wasn’t breaking new ground but he was re-treading some of the funniest and most daring tracks in the business: his own.

Starting the car
The film features numerous examples of Lloyd’s meticulous attention to detail, inventiveness and daring… Throughout it all he remains in character as the college-kid who always lands on his feet… even if a speeding train, explosion or vehicle pile-up threatens to remove his legs.

Harold plays an Uptown Boy, J. Harold Manners, a millionaire who sails through life unscathed even if the same cannot be said for his motor vehicles.

Downtown and uptown coffee
Agreeing to meet his buddies in some frightfully authentic Italian café in downtown, he gets lost and ends up near the free coffee cart run by the philanthropic Brother Paul (Paul Weigel). Harold succeeds in setting fire to the contraption and agrees to pay Paul well over the odds to cover the inconvenience.

The money is enough for the old man to fulfill his dream of starting a mission and his pretty young daughter, Hope (Lloyd regular, Jobyna Ralston) – The Downtown Girl – believes it was her writing to Manners that persuaded him to be so generous.

But Harold doesn’t want any ostentatious do-gooding and arrives to take issue with his name being used only to fall completely for Hope…

Manners meets his match
Thereafter, Harold can’t do enough to help and in one of the film’s funniest scenes, rallies up all the local thugs by annoying them and leading them straight to the Mission. The police arrive, thereby ensuring order and Harold becomes something of a hero by helping his new comrades hide their loot…

(Borrowed) clothes maketh the man
The former thugs begin to frequent the Mission, maybe not so much for the hymn singing as the chance to learn safe-cracking, although this aspect is not dwelt on (Paramount’s interference?) and the story quickly focus on romance as Harold and Hope announce their marriage.

There’s a wonderful scene in which Harold and Hope are seemingly sitting on a beach only for the camera to pan up and reveal their true location in a junk yard.

By the light of the laundry moon...
But, the film’s anything but finished as Harold’s kidnapping by his well-healed chums leads to a drunken rescue from his new friends followed by the funniest sequence of the film as Harold tries to heard these inebriated reprobates back to his wedding: they fall out of cars, balance high and buses, dangle off the sides and generally run riot.

The benefits of open-topped trolley buses...
It’s ten minutes of brilliant, memorable mayhem - so well crafted by Lloyd and his stunt performers - and it feels like the whole film has been building up to these moments.

If there’s a message here it’s surely that class doesn’t make you happy, only friendship and love and, in truth, that’s when Harold Lloyd becomes the most natural comedian: when he realises that he mustn’t miss his chance for happiness.

Jobyna Ralston
Jobyna Ralston is superb as the vision of Hope – she was an experienced foil for Lloyd by this stage, whilst Paul Weigel makes a good dreamer. But it’s the supporting mess of bums, rough-necks and assorted , reprobates that steal the show especially at the end: very much like an inebriated anti-Keystone Cops.

Catching the bus...
 For Heaven’s Sake is available as part of the great value The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection Vol. 3.

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