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For Heaven's Sake
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by Jay Seaver

"Uptown Boy."
4 stars

Harold Lloyd's "glasses" character would take many last names over the years, but the basics always remained the same - average-looking underdog-type, decked out in horn-rimmed spectacles and a straw hat, who succeeds through perserverence and quickness despite not looking like much. I must confess, though, that I have a fondness for the variation on this character he uses in movies like "Why Worry" and "For Heaven's Sake": A rich man who lands in a situation outside his customary life of luxury and proves himself more capable of fending for himself than one's first impression would suggest.

The first we see of J. Harold Manners (Lloyd) certainly isn't much - he's a feckless fat cat whose response to a careless automobile accident is to cross the street and drop some cash at the nearest car dealer. His second or third wreck of the day involves a street preacher's soup table. Not really listening to the conversation, he writes the preacher (Paul Weigel) a check large enough for not just a new table, but the mission he dreams of running. When he reads about the mission - with his name attached! - in the paper, he's appalled, and dashes back downtown to at least take the sign with his name down (what millionaire wants to be associated with poor people?). There, he meets the man's daughter (Jobyna Ralston), and his decision to stick around is what must inevitably follow from meeting such a lady.

When a character starts out privileged, we can enjoy his initial challenges without guilt. A lovable Harold getting run off by a group of bullies can be funny, yeah, but when the same thing happens to a Harold who walked into the room with the kind of swagger only money can buy, who considers himself better than such a place, you allow yourself to enjoy it more. And, besides, it's a nice counterpoint to the standard Cinderella story: As nice as the girl with nothing attracting the attention and winning the heart of the boy with everything is, the rich man becoming worthy of the poor girl is a little more satisfying.

Not that this film spends much of its running time on soppy love-story stuff. This is, after all, a chase movie, with cars for Harold to wreck in the first act, tough guys to chase him through the streets in the second, and a runaway hijacked trolley car to deliver him and a brace of drunken guests to his wedding in the third. There are, of course, moments when Harold isn't careening through town at full speed; he spends a fair amount of time confronting poor but eccentric folks in the mission. He will, of course, do things like absently selecting the one item on a serving tray that has landed there by accident and is really not supposed to be eaten. It's just in his nature.

If the movie has a weakness, it's that it describes a story arc but doesn't really put much work into it. Harold goes from callow to humane simply by being smitten; the roughnecks that he leads from a pool hall to the mission become his friends and guests at his wedding just because he doesn't rat them out to the cops that one time. But, I suppose that's my modern perspective where the story and character development is supposed to be king (or at least, that's what we're all told) rearing its ugly head. This movie's goal, though, is not to tell a story - the story is there so that the audience doesn't feel adrift when "The End" comes up on screen. This movie's goal is to make the audience laugh, and maybe gasp in astonishment a little.

And it does a fine job of that. That ending chase is pretty amazing: Harold is the only sober person on a double-decker bus traveling at high speed as his drunken wedding guests constantly threaten to fall off or run the vehicle off the road. The physical comedy that leads up to it is perfectly timed and comes naturally from the characters, as opposed to just being stunts and pratfalls that anyone could perform. You'll likely spend more of this movie's fifty-eight minutes laughing than not.

Sure, fifteen minutes of character building could have been added and the movie still would have been pretty short. But what would be gained? It wouldn't be funnier, and being funny is what "For Heaven's Sake" is for.

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originally posted: 08/12/05 10:19:08
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Directed by
  Sam Taylor

Written by
  John Grey
  Ted Wilde

  Harold Lloyd
  Jobyna Ralston
  Noah Young
  Jim Mason
  Paul Weigel
  Richard Daniels

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