Harold Lloyd is known as one of the three greatest silent comedians. While Buster Keaton had his pork pie hat and Charlie Chaplin had his wobbly cane, Harold Lloyd had his circular glasses. He wasn’t a lovable tramp or a hopeless romantic, his comedy came from the lies his character told. How would he get out of the lie he told his fiancé that he was rich? Well he would ape around pretending to be in charge and show her the general manager’s office when he had actually stepped out. His comedy was more screwball than slapstick. For instance when the landlady comes by to collect her overdue rent instead of getting into a hilarious confrontation like Chaplin or Keaton would do, he and his roommate hang themselves up underneath their coats and pretend to not be there. His comedy is probably the most modern out of these three comedians. So why is he signficantly less famous than the rest?
I think it is because he didn’t make films that would be great for all ages. He made adult films not because there was nudity in them but because he was put into very adult situations. Being late to work, lying about having money, and watching food disappear when you buy something expensive are all very adult concerns. No child is going to truly understand why he lied about having money. But as an adult, I understand completely. You never want to admit that you might be failing at something, especially not to the person you love. Of course I am only making these assertions based on one of his silent features. So you might take what I say here with a grain of salt. I might be completely wrong about why he is less famous than Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton.
Safety Last! is his best known feature and has his most famous stunt that he ever pulled off. This is of course the dangling from the clock bit on top of a very high building. While that stunt is well done, his genius lies in the smaller moments. When he goes to a jewelry shop to get a chain for his fiance and sees the meal he had been imagining slowly fade away, the trick is a great mastery of early visual tricks. And then at the beginning when you think that he is going to be hung and it ends up he is just leaving for the big bright city, the sequence makes you laugh right from the beginning.
Harold Lloyd should be more well-known than he is. Hopefully Criterion Collection will treat him like they did Charlie Chaplin and release more of his films in extended editions in the coming years.