Harold Lloyd Corporation
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release Date: April 7, 1928
Directed by Ted Wilde
CAST: Harold Lloyd (Harold "Speedy"Swift), Ann Christy (Jane Dillon), Bert Woodruff (Pop Dillon), Babe Ruth (Himself), W.S. Wilton (Byron Douglas), Brooks Benedict (Steve Carter)
The Criterion Collection's third Harold Lloyd release in Blu-ray is his last silent feature, "Speedy" (1928). This release promises home viewers the best possible quality with a new 4K digital restoration from elements preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
Before commenting more on this newest offering, let's talk a little about the film itself. However, the trouble with discussing Harold Lloyd's films is "what can be said that hasn't already been said?" But let's bring together some of those observations from the several publications both vintage and more recent.
Lloyd noted in his 1928 autobiography that the idea for "Speedy" began to germinate before "For Heaven's Sake" (1926). However, it was to be a big city picture about the underworld. After deciding that the girl in the picture should live with an uncle or grandfather, the next decision was what occupation should the uncle or grandfather have? A horse-drawn streetcar seemed like a good idea that would not only be "quaint" but offer ideas for gags. "There had been a horse-car line in New York until recently," Lloyd said, "operated to hold a franchise. . . The franchise plot grew until it crowded out the underworld story." (1)
Of course, there is an unscrupulous businessman who will go to any lengths to get the line. He refuses to pay Pop's (the grandfather's) price, so he hires thugs to ensure the old man loses his line. How? If he doesn't run the line at least once every 24 hours, he loses his right to it, according to city requirements. What provides the real fun in the story is when all the old guys in the neighborhood who are friends of Pop's come together to fight the thugs. One comments, "In twenty years I ain't fought nobody but my wife - an' I'm right on edge!"
Although this big fight is toward the end of the film, it's not the finale. After the fight, the thugs steal the car and horse one evening, and Speedy has two hours to find it and get it back on the line before the 24-hour window has passed. He finds it and races back to the appropriate point on the line in an almost 10-minute sequence that rivals the end of "Girl Shy" (1924) for thrills.
As most silent film fans know, the most talked about moment in this sequence is when the speeding car, pulled by two horses, doesn't clear one of the steel uprights supporting the city's el (overhead railway). In this unplanned accident, the right front of the car smashes into the upright throwing the stunt driver from the car (Lloyd did not attempt this dangerous drive through the city). Fortunately, he nor the horses were hurt. However, Lloyd decided to keep this accident in the film which provided another hindrance to getting back in time. Speedy's ingenuity once again saves the day as he uses a manhole cover to replace a smashed wheel, and the car is on its way again!
The story of the line franchise, however, does not comprise the entire 86 minutes of the film. Padding is provided with Speedy's inability to keep a job (as a soda jerk and then a taxi driver) because of his obsession with baseball and a gag-filled trip to Coney Island with Jane (Ann Christy). During his short time as a taxi driver, he has the opportunity to pick up Babe Ruth from an orphan asylum where he was visiting the kids and drive him to Yankee Stadium. Comedy is provided as Speedy drives wildly through the city trying to get Ruth to the stadium on time - however, in awe of his idol, he can't keep his eyes off the back seat and carrying on a conversation with the baseball star. It does add much to the New York flavor of the film by having the legendary Ruth in the film who apparently agreed to do it as a favor to director Ted Wilde who had just directed Ruth in "Babe Comes Home" the year before. (2)
Because Lloyd filmed almost all of the movie in New York, the viewer is given somewhat of a travelogue of the city in 1928, adding much to the charm of the film. A lengthy sequence was filmed at Luna Park at Coney Island, and other locations used in the film include the Plaza Hotel, the Queensboro Bridge, Wall Street, Times Square, Yankee Stadium, the Brooklyn Bridge, Greenwich Village and Central Park. Because of the crowds in New York that collected when filming was taking place, the original four-week shooting schedule turned into 12, and Lloyd also spent $80,000 on a Lower East Side set back at Culver City to get away from the crowds so he could film some of the scenes, such as the big fight with the thugs. (3)
Lloyd's previous six features had all co-starred the lovely Jobyna Ralston who proved to be the perfect counterpart for the characters he portrayed in those films. Sadly, her contract had expired with "The Kid Brother" (1927) and Lloyd brought in Ann Christy whom he had seen in several Christie Brothers comedies. Authors Jeffrey Vance and Lloyd's granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd, said it best in "Harold Lloyd: Master Comedian," Referencing Christy's contribution o the film, they said, "Although she had many charming scenes with Harold - particularly in the Coney Island sequences - she showed little of the depth that Ralston had been able to bring to the previous Lloyd films." (4)
Possibly the first biography of Lloyd to appear after his death in 1970 was Richard Schickel's The Shape of Laughter the following year. Schickel said, "'Speedy' is among the most overlooked of Lloyd's features, though it was quite successful in its own moment despite the competition from sound films." He added that is was "well structured" and "the story line and gags smoothly integrated." (5)
A somewhat better book, because it focuses more on Lloyd's work than his private life, is Adam Reilly's Harold Lloyd: The King of Daredevil Comedy published in 1977. Reilly liked a difference he saw in this film from other Lloyd features, observing a "mellowing of character" in "Speedy" that was not evident in his previous films. He notes that Lloyd's not the shy boy of "Girl Shy" nor striving for popularity as in "The Freshman." In this film, he is "a devil-may-care, likeable chap, somewhat altruistic, still sharp and witty, but most important, he is confident . . ." (6)
In his 1983 biography of the comedian, Tom Dardis agrees with Schickel that "Speedy" offered "a sustained balance between plot and gags." He also liked the "tender nostalgia for the recent past" that is evident as a result of the filming in New York. (7)
As noted, the film was a hit when it was released, and the critics praised it. Variety said, "This is a pip comedy on which anybody can write a catch line for reprinting and be right. . . 'Speedy' is a corking program laugh provoker." (8).
Harrison's Reports said " . . . 'Speedy' is as funny as 'The Freshman,'" adding, "Its action is dizzily fast from the beginning to the end. And there are thrills almost in every foot of action." (9)
The New York Times was just as praiseworthy in a more analytical fashion. "Mr. Lloyd has parceled out his comic stuff in a clever fashion. There is continuity to the whole story, the time that elapses is brief and each episode wins hearty rounds of laughter. . . This picture . . . will be at the Rivoli for an indefinite run."(10).
Picture Play magazine said, "It lives up to its title all right, fairly bristling with surprises in the way of gags, and it has captured the spirit of New York in terms of rollicking comedy as few pictures ever have." (11). "It's a corking rib tickler," noted Photoplay (12), and Motion Picture magazine gushed, "His present fun-film hurdled the heights of hilarity" . . . and "has more good gags than a shad has roe." (13)
Our analysis is that "Speedy" is a much better comedy than "Dr. Jack" (1922), "Why Worry?" (1923), or "Hot Water" (1924) but he produced other features, notably "Safety Last" (1923), "Girl Shy" (1924), "The Freshman" (1925) and "The Kid Brother" (1927), that are much better. But then, that's the curse of being one of the great comedians - your work is compared to your other work rather than the general fare that was available for audiences at the time. That being said, "Speedy" rises head and shoulders above nine-tenths of the competing feature output. It's a great comedy, and the nostalgia of the New York locations, as well as the old horse drawn streetcar, is certainly charming. However, there is a feeling of "padding" the time with the soda fountain, taxi and Coney Island sequences (Variety suggested it should be shortened by about 10 minutes) (14), and we also miss the romance of Lloyd's best films. That being said, we'll repeat how we regret the absence of Jobyna Ralston in this film.
There's no question though, how much the audiences and the critics liked "Speedy." The film cost $750,000 to make, and it grossed $2,287,798 (which includes foreign revenues), a tidy sum, yet still less than the gross of "The Kid Brother" the year before. Director Ted Wilde was also honored by being nominated for the Best Comedy Director Academy Award for this film, a category eliminated after the first awards ceremony. (15)
Regarding the exquisite Criterion Collection Blu-ray release, the company reports that, in addition to being a new 4K digital restoration, it comes with the superb 1992 Carl Davis score synchronized and restored under his supervision and presented in uncompressed stereo. Other features include a new audio commentary featuring Bruce Goldstein, director of repertory programming at New York's Film Forum, and Turner Classic Movies director of program production Scott McGee; In the Footsteps of "Speedy," a new short documentary by Goldstein about the film's New York shoot; a selection of rare archival footage of baseball legend Babe Ruth presented by David Filipi, director of film and video at the Wexner Center for the Arts; a new visual essay featuring stills of deleted scenes from the film and narrated by Goldstein, a selection of actor Harold Lloyd's home movies, narrated by his granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd; "Bumping into Broadway," a 1919 Lloyd two-reeler, newly restored and with a 2004 score by Robert Israel; and an essay by critic Phillip Lopate. For those who purchased "The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection" that came out in 2005, the decision whether to purchase the Criterion edition basically comes down to whether you want the added quality of a 4K restoration, because, as we know, the 2005 "Comedy Collection" release that was overseen by Lloyd's granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd, is a superb copy and also has the Carl Davis score, albeit in 2.0 mono.
1. Lloyd, Harold. An American Comedy. Dover Publications, Inc. 1971. (Originally published in 1928)
2. Vance, Jeffrey, and Suzanne Lloyd. Harold Lloyd: Master Comedian. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 2002.
5. Schickel, Richard. Harold Lloyd: The Shape of Laughter. New York Graphic Society. 1971.
6. Reilly, Adam. Harold Lloyd: The King of Daredevil Comedy. Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc. 1977.
7. Dardis.Tom. Harold Lloyd: The Man on the Clock. Penguin Books. 1983.
8. "Speedy" review. Variety. April 11, 1928.
9. "Speedy review. Harrison's Reports. April 14, 1928.
10. "Speedy" review. The New York Times. April 10, 1928.
11. "Speedy" review. Picture Play. July 1928.
12. "Speedy" review. Photoplay. May 1928.
13. "Speedy" review. Motion Picture. June 1928.
Copyright 2015 by Tim Lussier. All rights reserved
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