I confess I’ve never seen much from Harold Lloyd, even though I’d heard a lot about him over the years. Even during my days when I was looking to explore silent film, Lloyd seems to stand in a league of his own. “The Kid Brother” is one of his arguable best, it’s not a raucous comedy, but it manages to be a well paced, and charming underdog tale nevertheless. Lloyd embodies a lot of the underdog hero traits that we like, right down to the humble trademark glasses, something that becomes a unique trait in his quest to fight for the girl of his dreams and his family.
Harold Hickory (Harold Lloyd) is a feeble boy in an otherwise brawny family, but is known for being clever — and getting into trouble. After inviting the lovely carnival worker Mary Powers (Jobyna Ralston) into his home, Hickory discovers that a large sum of money entrusted to his father, the sheriff (Walter James), has gone missing. In this slapstick tale of mystery, Hickory must think fast in order to clear his family name, even if it means facing the strongman Sandoni (Constantine Romanoff).
“The Kid Brother” (an apparent favorite of Lloyd’s) possesses a lot of the same classic Western tropes that pits the dark horse against impossible odds. When we meet Harold, he’s a man who is given less consideration than his brawny brothers and father, but he relies mostly on his brains to get the day’s work done. That doesn’t matter much in his world, but he uses it as a means of ultimately redeeming his family’s legacy and fighting to save young Mary. Lloyd’s film is simultaneously homage to the 1921 film “Tol’able David,” but is also a re-make of a somewhat obscure 1924 Hal Roach film, “The White Sheep,” starring Glenn Tryon.
Lloyd manages to take the movie away with his endlessly funny pratfalls and pretty excellent stunts, including his quick method of washing and drying clothing, as well as climbing a towering tree effortlessly in order to bid farewell to Mary in a forest. Jobyna Ralston is also very good playing off of Lloyd and provides great chemistry with Llloyd. “The Kid Brother” is a very good introduction to Harold Lloyd (especially with the score by Carl Davis), and if you’ve yet to give this one a spin, it’s worth checking out in its current form.
The Blu-Ray from Criterion comes with an illustrated leaflet featuring critic Carrie Rickey’s essay “Mettle is Stronger Than Muscle” as well as technical credits. The New Blu-ray transfer from Criterion has been authorized by the Harold Lloyd Estate, and includes two Harold Lloyd short films (with music from Mark Herman), 1917’s “Over the Fence,” and 1918’s “That’s Him.” Preserving Harold is a new eleven minutes video program with archivist Dino Everett who highlights some of the challenges he faced while transferring the two early Harold Lloyd short films that are listed above. The Wurlitzer: Nathan Barr and Mark Herman is a new twenty minutes video program with film and television composer Nathan Barr and organist Mark Herman. They discuss the history and unique qualities of the vintage Twentieth Century Fox Studios organ that was used to score various classic films.
The two scores that are included with the shorts that are listed above were recorded with this instrument. The thirty minutes Harold’s Leading Ladies is a filmed conversation with author Cari Beauchamp and Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd, who discusses the three leading actresses that the legendary actor/director worked with over the years: Bebe Daniels, Mildred Davis, and Jobyna Ralston. It was filmed exclusively for Criterion in October 2018. Anatomy of a Gag: Monkeyshoes is a new nine minutes program with critic David Cairns who examines the mechanics of the gags that Harold Lloyd employed in his films. The program was created exclusively for Criterion in 2018. There is a collection of Behind the Scenes Stills, which was curated by Harold Lloyd’s archivist Richard Simonton Jr. in 2018.
The stills highlight the production of The Kid Brother and also included alternate gags, deleted scenes, and outtakes. Greenacres is a fifteen minutes featurette from 2005 that takes a closer look at Harold Lloyd’s estate in Los Angeles, with archival footage and clips from an interview with Suzanne Lloyd. There’s a seventeen minutes archival interview with Harold Lloyd which was conducted on December 14, 1962, and broadcast on Dutch public television. The actor discusses his transition from Lonesome Luke to his classic characters with the glasses, his relationship with Hal Roach, the ownership of his work, some of his notorious stunts, etc. Finally there’s a vintage audio commentary, originally recorded for New Line Home Entertainment’s DVD release of The Kid Brother in 2005, featuring filmmaker and Harold Lloyd archivist Richard Correll, author Annette D’Agostino Lloyd, and Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd.