by Jay Seaver
Harold Lloyd is best known for his physical comedy and his daredevil "thrill pictures", and for good reason. Just as important a part of his appeal, though, is that there is often a genuine sweetness to his movies, and a great deal of chemistry with his leading ladies. Most slapstick comedies from this period have a girl for a love interest, but it's perfunctory. With "Girl Shy", though, the Harold Lloyd Company makes a romantic comedy worthy of the title.Harold Meadows (Lloyd) is terrified of girls, developing a terrible stutter whenever one is around. He's an apprentice in his grandfather's small-town tailor shop, but dreams of bigger things - he has written a handbook about how to make love, which he intends to bring to a publisher in Los Angeles (as the titles inform us, one studies what one fears, and the more Harold learned, the more frightened he became). Meanwhile, Mary Buckingham's car breaks down, so she and her little dog need to catch a train. Dogs aren't allowed, but Mary (Jobyna Ralston) gets help hiding him from the conductor from fellow passenger Harold (who doesn't immediately recognize that he's not stuttering around Mary) They don't expect to see each other again. But later she insists on swinging through the town when on a drive with gentleman friend Ronald De Vore (Carlton Griffin) - who is reluctant for reasons that will be clear later - and when they meet up at a picturesque riverbed, they're delighted. But when Harold finds out his book is a laughingstock at the publisher, he pretends he never loved her. A couple revelations later, though, and Harold is off to L.A. using every method of transportation short of an airplane to stop her wedding.
"One of the first great romantic comedies."
In many ways, this film is a template of Lloyd's movies. He plays a small town guy of modest means, slightly oblivious to his shortcomings. He meets a girl, gets cut down to size, but rises up with tremendous resourcefulness, and it culminates in a thrilling spectacle. What stands out the most is the unforced chemistry between Lloyd and Jobyna Ralston; they hit it off immediately, but every new development comes as a surprise. Their courtship works so well that the writers and directors would re-use some of it the next year in The Freshman; in both films, the pair meet on a train, and later Lloyd sees Ralston's reflection before realizing she's nearby (here in water, there in a mirror).
Because Lloyd and Ralston are playing their romance relatively straight, a great deal of the comedy comes from Harold's book. On the one hand, there are fantasy sequences of Harold's alter ego seducing a flapper and a "vampire" (I had no idea that there were goth chicks in the roaring twenties); on the other, we see the women in the publisher's office laughing their heads off at a book Harold didn't intend to be funny at all. A third fantasy sequence was supposedly filmed; that would make for a nifty DVD extra if the Lloyd estate still has it around. It lets us get a laugh at poor delusional Harold's expense while still being able to root for him to get the girl.
And what a fine girl she is. Jobyna Ralston's Mary is quite a catch, not only beautiful and wealthy, but also not overly delicate or snobbish. She's willing to take some initiative, actually spending some time looking for Howard after their first meeting. Lloyd's character, meanwhile, is naive and gallant, with an active imagination and a surfeit of self-confidence (unless women are involved, of course) - sometimes warranted, sometimes not. They play off each other well, along with the rest of the cast.
And then, of course, there is the big showstopper, as Harold rushes to Mary's home to stop her wedding. After just barely missing a train (itself surprising, because nobody and nothing is usually able to outrun Harold "Speedy" Lloyd), he doesn't simply wait for the next one. Oh, no. He runs, hops onto the backs of vehicles, and hijacks cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, streetcars, horses, fire engines... Anything that will get him a step closer to the Buckingham mansion. Of course, it wouldn't be much of a sequence if any single conveyance could get him all the way there, so there's flat tires, empty gas tanks, smash-ups, and misguided police officers who don't understand his grand theft auto is being done for a good cause to avoid along the way. It's more or less continuous vehicular mayhem with, of course, the occasional cutting to Mary to show just how close Harold is cutting it.Yes, this sounds like an awful lot of Lloyd's other movies, and eighty years of ensuing romantic comedies besides. But even if it doesn't seem to innovate to a modern audience, it hits every beat almost flawlessly.
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originally posted: 07/07/05 09:11:17