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Cinequest 2005
Cinequest's 15th anniversary
Capsule reviews (part 1)
Capsule reviews (part 2)
Capsule reviews (part 3)
Ben Kingsley
Harold Lloyd
Suzanne Lloyd Q&A
'Charlie the Ox'
'Missionary Positions'
Festival schedule
Preview (from February 2)


Suzanne Lloyd

By Richard von Busack

Harold Lloyd was the least known of the Big Three of silent movie comedy, in contrast with Chaplin and Keaton. He changed the idea that a funnyman had to dress funny. In fact, he could be an average breezy kid of the 1920s. Lloyd's "glass character"—a bespectacled everyman, usually identified as The Boy—epitomized the funny side of mainstream America in the 1920s. Like his country, Lloyd was striving, heedless, innocent and often unintentionally comic. Hugely popular and much imitated, Lloyd left a shadow that reaches far—to the James Bond adventures, to the breakneck action comedies of Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow. Lloyd would have recognized a little of himself in the eager Peter Parker, or in that moment of the hero's scaling a clock tower in Spider-Man 2.

Harold Lloyd's granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd is the sole trustee of the Harold Lloyd trust, and the co-author of Harold Lloyd, Master Comedian (Abrams), a book that sums up Lloyd's life and films. She'll be on hand March 4 as part of Cinequest. At the California Theater in downtown San Jose, she'll introduce her grandfather's best-known film, 1923's Safety Last!, billed with the 1932 talkie Movie Crazy, as well as the 1920 two-reeler An Eastern Westerner, and 35mm home movies of Harold Lloyd and his family.

In late March, Suzanne Lloyd is going to Turin to introduce 25 Lloyd movies. And in Paris on April 1st she'll watch some of his classics accompanied by a full orchestra.

METRO: What is your favorite moment in your grandfather's films?

LLOYD: That depends on the day. I love the romantic moments. Say, the scene in Girl Shy when Jobena Ralston's face is reflected in the water, or when she appears in the soaped up mirror in The Freshman.

I always feel terrified for him in Safety Last!, when he's on the balcony and the rat runs up the leg of his trousers. And then there's the marvelous scene of bewilderment in Movie Crazy, when the magician's coat he's wearing falls to pieces. He shot it all in one try; his movements are particularly brilliant in that one.

It seems like the James Bond films were influenced by Keaton—the immobile-faced hero in ridiculous peril. Still, I noticed that there's a reference to Safety Last! in the titles of On Her Majesty's Secret Service...

Harold loved James Bond. I think the last movie he saw in the series was Thunderball, but he read all the books.

I'd wager that Peter Parker was designed by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko with Lloyd in mind.

Yes, and I see the resemblance in how kind Peter Parker is to his aunt, and how sweet and romantic he is to that little girl. Actually, Sony [producers of the Spider-Man series] is going to be theatrically releasing all of Harold's movies, beginning in April, starting at the Film Forum in New York. They'll be 15 of the films in the series all together. Sony's really behind this.

Your book quotes Orson Welles—a fervent Lloyd fan—as saying "Intellectuals don't like Harold Lloyd." Do you think that's still true?

I don't think so. Welles was talking about a few snooty historians who found Harold's films too mechanical. In the 1970s, particularly, they were very much into noir... and by extension that meant Chaplin. Harold was just too normal. But among his achievements was making a comedian out of a normal person who got to keep the girl at the end of the film. He didn't come out of vaudeville or the music hall. In many ways he was like one of the audience.

It's a pity that Lloyd's film career ended in a debacle for both him and Preston Sturges; I mean the much delayed, overbudget and interfered-with The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (aka Mad Wednesday).

Harold said, "I didn't really quit, I just slowed down." Mad Wednesday wasn't the right vehicle for him, or for Sturges either, who had just come off of seven hits in a row.

Unfortunately, Sturges hired his girlfriend [Frances Ramsden] for the lead actress. Harold and Sturges had been friends, bowling buddies even. And Sturges' partnership with Howard Hughes was troubled too. Hughes was half-crazy after his plane crash and had a hard time making decisions. [Sturges' biographer Diane Jacobs sums up another aspect of the clash of talents: "Lloyd was used to playing heroic underdogs, and Sturges had no patience with simple heroes."]

There's a large release of Harold's films on DVD coming up...

At the beginning of November, New Line is releasing 31 of Harold's titles. Another thing that's going on is that we're printing, for the first time, negatives of photos Harold took of Marilyn Monroe. These will be sold on the first week of June to commemorate Marilyn's birthday.

You've sold the rights to the remake of Safety Last!—do they have a lead actor yet?

They're looking at different types, but they haven't made a decision yet. Incidentally, it's a pleasure to be showing his films at the film festival dedicated to mavericks—not just because such a thing sounds like fun, but also because Harold was an early independent filmmaker—a producer, a star and his own studio all in one.

Cinequest and The Stanford Theatre Foundation host Harold Lloyd films March 4, 7:30pm, at the California Theatre, 345 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $10.

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