If Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin rest on opposite sides of the silent comedy spectrum, Harold Lloyd fits snuggly in the middle. Chaplin and Keaton had distinct comedic styles that drew upon their natural abilities and skills. Where Keaton played broad physical humor for laughs, Chaplin employed a more down on his luck situational sensibility. Lloyd, on the other hand, uses a combination of physical prowess and a situational approach, often drawn from his characters' wits, that defines his distinct comedic style.
Lloyd all but invented the idea of the "thrill-comedy" during the silent era, where his characters, often named Harold, where put into situations that where both harrowing and hilarious. Not an easy feat to achieve, even today. His brand of comedy was enough to make him one of the top box office draws for most of the 1920's. Much like Keaton, Lloyd was very involved with the making of his films and owned the rights to many of the films he produced. As a result, "The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection" is an amazing look at Lloyd's body of work, gathering 28 short and feature films into a seven disc, three volume set with a seventh disc chock full of extras.
The high point of the first volume is arguably Lloyd's most famous work "Safety Last!" Anyone remotely familiar with film history knows the image of Lloyd dangling helplessly from a clock that hangs on the side of a building in downtown L.A. The film follows Lloyd, playing a character named Harold, as he works to get by in the big city. He hopes of making a name for himself so he can send home for his sweetheart and get hitched. When his girlfriend comes to town to surprise him things get a little overwhelming. There is a great sequence in the manager's office, which he must pose as (he is only a retail clerk), so that he can convince his girlfriend of his importance with the department store. When he overhears his manager proclaim that he will pay anyone $1000 who can bring in more customers to the store, Harold gets the idea to use his roommate, a human fly, to attract more customers with a daring stunt. The day of the event, complications ensue and Harold must scale the side of the building himself. This all leads up to the classic moment of Harold hanging from the clock (which Jackie Chan paid tribute to in "Project A"). The pacing of the film never feels off and moves rather briskly with the humor all coming together in a seamless fashion. This is easily one of the best films in the set and one of the best silent comedies ever made.
The second volume of the set features one Lloyd's best and most successful films, "The Freshman." It's yet another gem in Lloyd's body of work and further solidifies the genius of his comedy. Everything comes together seamlessly to create an enjoyable and hilarious film. Lloyd plays Harold 'Speedy' Lamb, a freshman in college, who's only goal is to be the most popular student in school. He quickly warms up to a few upperclassmen who do nothing but play tricks on him. Harold thinks of it as nothing more than innocent ribbing by his new friends. For most of the film he is taken advantage of by his classmates, which leads him to believe that his popularity is gaining among them. He is oblivious to their intentions until a sweet natured girl, who he has deep crush on, helps him realize the truth about his so-called friends. Harold is devastated by the news but he presses on with his constantly cheerful, upbeat attitude. He vows to play well in the big football game and help defeat his school's rival, but this is hard to do considering he is only a water boy.
"The Freshman" is a very funny film with Lloyd acting as the film's anchor. His ear to ear smile in the face of overwhelming odds is a shot in the arm to stone faced, nonchalant comics of yesteryear. His comedy is familiar, yet unique enough to set him apart and help solidify him as a comic legend. Throughout the course of "The Freshman" and many of Lloyd's other films, viewers feel equally nervous and on the verge of comical tears in watching Lloyd succumb to the situational circumstances that plague him. His solutions will often leave you laughing out loud.
As with many silent era comedies, most of the stories revolve around a simplistic boy-girl romance with extenuating circumstances. There is certain simplicity to most of the story lines, centering on some romance or another, varying in set-up and execution to create delightfully entertaining films. The situational humor of his films placed Lloyd in the same leagues as Chaplin and Keaton where he quickly came to be known as the everyman of silent comedy.
Spread across the set are the following:
Volume 1, Disc 1: "Girl Shy" (1924), "Safety Last!" (1923), "An Eastern Westerner" (1920), "Ask Father" (1919), "From Hand to Mouth" (1919), Disc 2: "The Milky Way" (1936), "The Cat's Paw" (1934), "Why Worry?" (1923)
Volume 2, Disc 1: "Kid Brother" (1927), "The Freshman" (1925), "Bumping Into Broadway" (1919), "Billy Blazes, Esq." (1919), Disc 2: "Feet First" (1930), "Grandma's Boy" (1922), "Dr. Jack" (1922), "Now or Never" (1921), "High and Dizzy" (1920)
Volume 3, Disc 1: "Speedy" (1928), "Hot Water" (1924), "Never Weaken" (1921), "Haunted Spooks" (1920), Disc 2: "Movie Crazy" (1932), "For Heaven's Sake" (1926),
"I Do" (1921), "Among Those Present" (1921), "A Sailor-Made Man" (1921), "Get Out and Get Under" (1920), "Number Please?" (1920),
Extras Disc: There are handful of extras on the first 6 discs, including optional audio commentary on some of the films, a few featurettes and production galleries. Disc 7 includes a plethora of extras including interviews, featurettes, Lloyd's 3D photography and much more.
Presented in full frame 1.33:1 the video transfers look superb. Considering there are about 80 years between when the films were first made until there release on DVD, it's a wonder how they kept them looking so good. Any of the films could easily have been made a few months ago, let alone 80 years ago. The contrast is solid all around, but there is some difference in the different black and white hues (blue versus sepia), however this difference is negligible. The images come across crisp and clear and are absolutely fantastic to look at. There are a few spots where there are scratches but there are very few other flaws on these transfers.
The audio is another wonderful achievement. New scores accompany the films and they sound brilliant. The talky films have even had their sound restored for the transfer. There is no distortion in any places as the music comes across wonderfully. The stereo mix is finely done and in some cases there is even a choice between the new scores and the old. These new orchestral scores fit seamlessly into the films and would have made Lloyd proud, this is the way silent films are supposed to be experienced.
Audio commentary on "Safety Last!" is a nice little film school/history of Lloyd and silent era comedy. Leonard Maltin and Lloyd archivist Richard Correll go into detail about Lloyd's talent s as silent comedian, as well as the differences between him and Chaplin and Keaton. They also discuss the locations used in the films and how many of them can still be seen today.
The first volume also contains a production still gallery and a short 8 minute look at the locations used in Lloyd's films ("Harold Lloyd's Hollywood"). It's interesting to explore the locations employed in the films and their modern day counterparts. The featurette is reminiscent of Kevin Brownlow's book "Silent Echoes: Discovering Early Hollywood through the Films of Buster Keaton," which explores Keaton's favorite filming locations and compares them to their modern day counterparts.
Every volume in the set comes with its own extras. Included are production galleries and featurettes, along with some audio commentaries on select films. Most of the commentaries are filled with nice tidbits of information regarding the film and Lloyd's work, though some of the information is repetitive at times.
Included in the volume specific extras are "Scoring for Comedy" which is a look at how some of the composers approached scoring the various films. There is also a look at Greenacres that provides the viewer with some contemporary footage, spliced in with home movies from Lloyd's private collection.
The boxed set also comes with a seventh disc loaded to the brim with extras. These include a series of interviews with the likes of Kevin Brownlow, Debbie Reynolds, John Landis and members of Lloyd's family. The disc has featurettes that look at virtually everyone who was ever seriously involved with Lloyd and his films. The disc is "hosted" by Leonard Maltin and information can be navigated in various ways. There is a DVD-ROM feature that even allows you to search for specific content throughout the disc. There are even clips of Lloyd's appearances at some social functions including USC's tribute to Harold Lloyd, hosted by Jack Lemmon and Steve Allen.
Not quite the physical comedian as Keaton, Lloyd was very much the athlete, as proven by the countless physical stuns he performed throughout many of his films. Where Chaplin and Keaton had their distinctive personas that were exaggerated, clown types, Lloyd came with a visage that was just as distinct as Chaplin's tramp or Keaton's stone face, though not as over the top. His trademark glasses and straw hat was a look that could be pulled straight from people in his audience. "The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection" is an excellent DVD set containing hours of hilarious, comedic fun and enough extras to provide a film schools worth of knowledge on silent era comedy. Providing a wealth of wonderful films, the set is a testament to Lloyd's genius.