Presented by the Music Box and the Silent Film Society of Chicago, this series of double features ($10.50 admission) showcases new prints from the silent and early sound career of slapstick master Harold Lloyd. Screenings are Friday through Thursday, July 1 through 7, at the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport, and all silent programs feature live organ accompaniment by Jay Warren, Dennis Scott, or Mark Noller. For more information call 773-871-6604 or visit www.musicboxtheatre.com.
Unlike Chaplin or Keaton, Lloyd came to film as a dramatic actor and played several comic characters before donning his famous spectacles and settling into a persona more like himself: a young rube determined to make something of himself in modern America. The hair-raising sequences of him hanging from buildings struck a chord at the dizzying height of the Jazz Age and made him overall a bigger earner than either of his contemporaries. But his poignant performance in The Freshman (1925, 76 min.), widely considered his best picture, proves that he was also a gifted comic player. Embarrassment was always his forte, and the story's emotional centerpiece is a priceless sequence in which he arrives at a homecoming dance in a tuxedo that isn't quite finished. (Fri 7/1, 9:30 PM; Sat 7/2, 4 and 9:30 PM)
Playing on the same bill is Speedy (1928, 86 min.), Lloyd's last silent film. As Martin Rubin wrote, the movie "pits him against corporate interests who want to buy out New York City's only remaining horse-drawn streetcar line; in keeping with the era's enshrinement of speculative capitalism, his goal is not to preserve the good old days but to sell them off at a better price. Extended digressions on Coney Island and baseball (there's a cameo by Babe Ruth) fill out this zippy slice of zeitgeist. Those familiar with King Vidor's contemporaneous masterpiece The Crowd might note how parts of Speedy resemble Vidor's darker spin on rugged individualism." (Fri 7/1, 7:30 PM; Sat 7/2, 2 and 7:30 PM)
Safety Last (1923, 78 min.) includes the famous sequence in which Lloyd, tapped as a last-minute substitute for a human-fly daredevil, winds up hanging from the side of a building on the hands of a clock. Dave Kehr rightly called this "only one of the great moments in what could be the most brilliantly sustained comic climax in film history." (Sun 7/3, 4 and 9 PM) It's on the same bill as Girl Shy (1924, 88 min.), Lloyd's concerto of sexual embarrassment. An assistant tailor, he stutters uncontrollably around young women, though in private he's been writing a seduction manual. The movie is best remembered for its climactic (and somewhat overdrawn) chase, but there are plenty of rich moments early on as Lloyd endures the physical intimacy of fitting women's clothes. (Sun 7/3, 2 and 7 PM)
Lloyd's career in talkies was typical of the great silent comedians: he managed the transition well enough, but his persona suddenly seemed out of place in the bleak early years of the Depression. His sound comedies were praised by critics but failed commercially, and by the end of the 30s he'd retired. Movie Crazy (1932, 95 min.) is a back-lot comedy with Lloyd as an aspiring movie star, best known for a sequence in which he takes to the dance floor mistakenly wearing a magician's coat. (Tue 7/5, 7 PM) In The Cat's Paw (1934, 100 min.) he plays a naive young man persuaded to run for mayor of a corrupt town. (Tue 7/5, 5 and 9 PM)
Why Worry? (1923, 60 min.) was described by Kehr as "Lloyd's sole venture into surrealist comedy...more like a Keaton film than anything else, full of marvelously inventive visual gags and elegant slapstick. Lloyd is a hypochondriac playboy on a therapeutic vacation in South America, where he finds himself fighting a revolution with the help of an amiable giant. Very strange and very funny." (Wed 7/6, 5:40 and 9 PM) Lloyd was most effective playing a city slicker, but his Nebraska childhood inspired a few Keaton-esque exercises in Americana. In The Kid Brother (1927, 82 min.) he plays a small-town boy who runs afoul of his sheriff father after a beautiful woman rolls into town with a traveling medicine show. In a wonderful point-of-view gag, shot with a makeshift elevator, he climbs ever higher in a tree to get a look at his beloved as she saunters down a valley, before passion gives way to the law of gravity. (Wed 7/6, 7 PM)
The series concludes with two rarely screened silent features. Lloyd followed up his first big hit, Grandma's Boy, with Doctor Jack (1922, 45 min.), playing a heroic physician who falls for a beautiful patient. (Thu 7/7, 9:15 PM) But the real curiosity is the silent version of Welcome Danger (1929, 111 min.), with Lloyd as an amateur detective tracking a drug runner in San Francisco's Chinatown. The release version was rejiggered as a talkie, with some scenes dubbed and others reshot; the Music Box will present the original silent cut, which was recently restored by UCLA. (Thu 7/7, 7 PM)