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The Kid Brother

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 28, 2015

In 1989 Kevin Brownlow and David Gill produced a documentary about Harold Lloyd entitled Harold Lloyd: the Third Genius. It’s very good, both on Lloyd himself, on how his work related to the film industry of his time, and even to society entire.

It might be fair to point out, though, that this film’s title isn’t exactly accurate. Harold Lloyd was incredibly popular, his films generating more revenue than any of the other great silent clowns. (This is almost certainly owing to the fact that during the 20s Chaplin made so many fewer films.) He hit a nerve, too: something about his optimistic go-getter persona spoke to audiences of the time, who happily endorsed and identified with the values that he reflected.

Further, in my eyes anyway, a deep decency informs, even pervades so much of Lloyd’s work. After his film career ended he continued to be conspicuous in his benevolent work in Los Angeles, and elsewhere. Plus, Mildred Davis.

But genius? I don’t think so. Our Safety Last review (q.v.) makes this point, which I am now over-making. But let’s consider the other side of this idea. Genius isn’t the only option available as a fella goes about trying to make his mark, or make a difference. There’s hard work too, and Lloyd certainly worked as hard at his craft as anyone ever did. Oh! That’s the other outlet.

Harold Lloyd may not be quite for the ages, but The Kid Brother is, mostly owing to the fact that that consistent diligence meets a perfect storm of simple, basic professionalism and comic craftsmanship. Lloyd, his director(s), the people who framed and cut the images, and especially his raft of writers really got together and accomplished something here. There are long sequences in this film—the daily chores, hiding the presence in the cabin of Miss Ralston—that are monuments of collective creativity and compound joke-building. They’re very funny and, if not quite Buster Keaton on that Confederate train of his, they’re quite wonderful.

Maybe it’s all that hard work and professional wisdom that create the grace notes, a graciousness that isn’t always or often present in Lloyd’s films. The Kid Brother is actually really beautiful. It may be that the fairy tale-derived younger brother conceit resonates more in this rural setting. It may be that Harold’s antagonists are so formidable as to accomplish a bit of mythic grandeur. (Again, has someone been watching Henry King’s Tol’able David?) It’s certainly owing to some remarkably sweet, even luminous inventions. Watch for that tree sequence. As we’ve over-said-before, you’ll know it when you see it!

Anyway, Speedy is next, and its jaw-dropping chases notwithstanding, I experience it as seriously lacking, to the point of quite aggravating. Then sound, and some productions that were actually pretty interesting, but not so much so that they saved his film career. Not a genius, and certainly not a tragic or persecuted genius. But he certainly did make a fine picture or two.