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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.11%
Worth A Look: 11.11%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 11.11%

1 review, 3 user ratings

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Cat's-Paw, The
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by Jay Seaver

"A master of physical comedy adrift in a sea of talk."
3 stars

Give Harold Lloyd some credit; he not only accepted the march of progress, but he did his best to embrace it and help it along. During his later years, he was fascinated by 3-D photography, and many early tests of color filmmaking took place on his "GreenAcres" estate. And he didn't shy away from sound when that was introduced to film, or stubbornly try to make the same kind of film that made him rich after the public was no longer buying them. It's just a pity that he wasn't very well-suited to talkies.

For all The Cat's-Paw's faults, being too much like Lloyd's earlier movies isn't one of them. Rather than being a California everyman who can meet any challenge with a challenge of quick thinking and surprising athleticism, his Ezekiel Cobb is a raised-in-China missionary's son with a piece of wisdom from a Confucian philosopher for every situation. Indeed, the very fact that the character is named something other than Harold indicates that Cobb is more a character than a variation on Lloyd's "glasses" persona, though the spectacles remain. There's some similarities, but Ezekiel's specific background is far more of a factor here than it is in his other films.

Screenwriter/director Sam Taylor had worked with Lloyd often during the silent years, but for this film he takes a different approach, one which is far more dialog/plot-driven. There are really no big, impressive displays of physical comedy or daredevilry. Unfortunately, the film doesn't make up for it with great screwball dialogue, either - Lloyd's reedy voice isn't really suited for it, and leading lady Una Merkel's urban drawl delivers her sarcastic lines just a beat slower than "zippy". It's a decidedly slower pace than the zippy tempo associated with silent films, which are filled with action and compress conversation down to a few seconds rather than protracted exchanges.

There's also a bit more timely social relevance to this movie's plotline, adapted from a story by Clarence Budington Kelland (who also wrote the source for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town). The Great Depression isn't specifically referenced, but Lloyd's films set during the Roaring Twenties tended to be thoroughly light-hearted affairs with the American dream within easy reach, while here corruption is omnipresent, even if the attendant poverty isn't. Ezekiel, you see, has returned to the land of his birth for the first time in twenty-five years in order to find himself a suitable wife. When the man he was supposed to meet, an old friend of Cobb Sr., passes away, Ezekial soon finds himself tapped to replace him on the ballot for mayor. He only accepts the nomination because he's told there's no chance of him winning, not quite understanding that he's being used by the city machine to keep the current mayor in office. When his basic decency winds up torpedoing the adminisitration, he finds himself elected - which, of course, will be a disaster for those used to pulling the strings.

There's some funny bits to the movie - Harold Lloyd has always played a good naive boy wanting to do right, although he was getting a little long in the tooth for it by this time, what with the quality of film stock having improved to the point where both his pancake makeup and the flesh-colored glove he wore on his right hand were easier to detect. He's got a decent supporting cast, especially George Barbier as the fast talking Irishman who convinces Cobb to run for mayor and fears for his reputation (and life) after the election. I wasn't quite so fond of Ms. Merkel as Petunia Pratt. She's pretty enough, and her delivery and attitude is a counterpoint to Lloyd's. I get the idea that he falls for a woman who is the opposite of the ideal wife he describes - independent and opinionated - but there just weren't any sparks between the pair, other than her being the first woman like that he encounters.

And that's another part of what makes this a thoroughly dated, sometimes unpleasant movie to watch - a number of its attitudes are of its time, and ones which America has (for the most part) evolved past. That a woman should be independent is unlikely to be disputed, but the subservient wife Cobb initially describes is stated as a Chinese ideal. I wouldn't be completely surprised if that's what was said out loud rather than just among men at the time, but now it seems like painting an entire culture with a broad brush. And, speaking of China, people just don't use the word "chink" separately from the word "armor" any more; it's been consigned to a more distant part of linguistic purgatory than the n-word. It's said by unpleasant, racist people, but it doesn't seem to be particularly discomfiting to Cobb or any of the Chinese characters. Also, the film's denouement is rather grim, resolving the plot but not providing many laughs.

Give Lloyd credit for trying, I guess, but with this disconnect between his skill set and the tastes of the new decade, it's not surprising he soon opted to quietly fade out of the movie industry.

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originally posted: 08/11/05 10:39:13
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User Comments

4/21/15 Tom Shales Only a Harold Lloyd fan who'd forgive him ANYTHING could call this racist mess a good film. 1 stars
5/13/09 Tom Great film. Pols are the same now as then. 5 stars
7/29/08 brian Even Lloyd's lesser films are better than most. 4 stars
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Directed by
  Sam Taylor

Written by
  Sam Taylor

  Harold Lloyd
  Una Merkel
  George Barbier
  Nat Pendleton
  Grace Bradley
  Alan Dinehart

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