by Jay Seaver
Harold Lloyd was one of the biggest stars of the silent era, so it's amusing to consider the central joke: That there's no way a Hollywood producer would hire Harold Lloyd (or, at least, his "glasses" character) to star in movies, despite the fact that the real thing was one of the biggest stars of the twenties. Of course, it's a false comparison, even if it's worth a chuckle - the real Lloyd was a very different animal than this film's Harold Hall.Lloyd was, in fact, a good-looking guy; it's said that he was the inspiration for Superman's alter ego Clark Kent, for how a simple pair of glasses can, in fact, fundamentally change a person's appearance and perception. He was also quite sharp, an uncredited co-director and producer on many of his films, who not only retained ownership of his movies' copyright but preserved the negatives when many others failed to do so. His character isn't exactly a moron, but he is sort of a doofus, the kind who attracts trouble without meaning to.
"Harold Lloyd, Hollywood star? Impossible!"
In fact, "Trouble" is the nickname given to Hall by actress Mary Sears (Constance Cummings), an actress under contract to the studio that promised Harold a screen test when they received the wrong photograph. He makes a lousy first impression on the producer (Robert McWade), has a disastrous screen test opposite a starlet (Mary Doran) who is far more comfortable with her sex appeal than he is, and doesn't realize that the Latina beauty he runs into on the lot is Mary in a black wig. Mary takes a liking to him, though, since he's so apologetic and guileless. Of course, once she realizes that he doesn't recognize her in character, she opts to put that guilelessness to the test, even as she tries to deal with an amorous co-star (Kenneth Thomson) prone to drink.
In many ways, Movie Crazy is the talkie that comes closest to matching the feel of Lloyd's great silents. It's structured around the set-pieces, although some are more speech-and-sound-centric (like the simple screen test that requires dozens of takes) than built around action. Still, there's plenty that rely on good old-fashioned physical comedy, like Harold accidentally swapping tuxedo jackets with a magician at a formal party, and thus finding his sleeves and pockets full of birds, mice, and other things that might be awkward. It also ends with a big, stunt-filled finale, as Harold comically fights Mary's co-star on a rapidly-flooding boat set.
And, like in his silents, he's still playing an eager young fellow leaving home for the first time, even though he was only a year or two short of forty when this movie was shot. Good make-up artists for the most part allow him to look the part, and his acting is strong enough that even when he and Ms. Cummings are seen together in close-up, the audience's first reaction is not something along the lines of "wait, he's the new kid in town and she's the established movie star?" Constance Cummings gives a decent performance herself, a mischievous foil to Harold's ignorance. She's a pretty decent sort, young enough to still have her ideals but old enough to have seen people fall short of them often enough that you can't blame her for protecting herself from falling in love with Harold.
Still, there's something a bit off between them. It's not just the age difference, although that's part of it. Ms. Cummings was primarily a stage actress, and even for the 1930s, a lot of her line readings seem calculated to be heard in the balconies. It's perhaps too sharp a contrast to Lloyd's reedy voice, and she's not quite as good with the physical comedy as her co-star, so she's not really a full participant in the film's showcase scenes. And it's not just her; there are other things that don't quite make the transition to sound. The final set piece, for instance, is impressive, but also somewhat drawn-out, and the addition of words to what would, five years earlier, have been a purely visual sequence seems to slow it down. It's technically as impressive as many of Lloyd's other finales, but doesn't crackle with the same energy."Movie Crazy" is a bit better than average for a sound film for a silent star, but it just goes to show how completely the medium was changing at the time. Five years ago, Lloyd was one of Hollywood's biggest stars, but just a few years into the sound era, his style was becoming obsolete, which is frustrating - there's no apparent reason for this movie to not be as funny as his silents, and yet it rarely reaches those heights.
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originally posted: 08/16/05 11:32:28