This being Criterion’s fourth Lloyd release I figured they might be running out of material but that’s not the case and this release may offer my favourite collection of supplements, even if everything isn’t strong. The weakest feature here is more than likely the audio commentary, originally recorded for the 2005 New Line DVD edition, featuring archivist Richard Correll, film historian Annette D’Agostino Lloyd, and Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd. The three have been recorded together. It’s a fine enough track but I admittedly didn’t find it all that special. They talk about the production history of the film, talk about the performers that appear in it, go over the development of gags, and share various stories. But they also spend a lot of time just going over story points, which gets a bit frustrating. There are some good details in here, but a lot of the more interesting facets are covered in other areas of the features, so it’s not a track I would say is necessary to listen to.
Criterion then provides several new features, starting with an interview between granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd and author Cari Beauchamp about Harold’s Leading Ladies. The 30-minute discussion goes over the professional and personal relationships between Lloyd and his leading ladies Bebe Daniels, Mildred Davis (whom Lloyd would marry), and Jobyna Ralston. Lloyd shares her own personal memories and the stories she heard. She explains why Daniels and Lloyd broke up and why he ended up feeling he needed a new leading lady after marrying Davis. They also talk about how Lloyd presented women in his films (they were usually strong characters) and why Lloyd stopped making comedies around married characters after a couple of films. It’s a great discussion about how Lloyd saw women in his films and also about the morals of the time.
David Cairns next provides a visual essay examining Lloyd’s execution of a gag with Anatomy of a Gag: Monkeyshines. The 9-minute essay spends most of its time breaking down the climactic sequence on the beached boat, before Cairns uses this as his launch-off point to show how Lloyd develops his gags by exploiting “suspense and terror.” As a bonus he also talks about the monkey that appears in the film. It’s short, sweet, and to the point point.
Criterion also includes a collection of behind-the-scenes photos in a navigable gallery. Included here are a number of shots from deleted and alternate scenes. Accompanied by notes, we get to see alternate set ups for gags, characters with completely different actors in the roles (the brothers originally had different actors in the part and even a lobby card for the film made use of a photo featuring the alternate actors), and even quick bits cut out of the film. And amusingly there’s an odd photo of a naked Ted Wilde, the film’s director, from behind (the notes joke that Wilde was probably fighting the heat). It’s a fantastic gallery loaded with a lot of great material.
There is then another video essay, called Close to Home, running 16-minutes and created by location historian John Bengston. Using overhead photos and clips from the film Bengston lays out the shooting locations for The Kid Brother and despite the rural look of the film it wasn’t all that far from L.A. and was quite close to the studio (most of it was shot where Forest Lawn cemetery is now). It’s a fascinating piece of Hollywood history, Bengston even pointing out other films that used the same locations.
Criterion then carries over another feature from the original 2005 New Line DVD, Suzanne Lloyd giving a tour of Lloyd’s estate, Greenacres. She first explains Lloyd’s original intentions with the property (it was just an investment initially) and how that changed to it being his home. We are then given a video tour, Lloyd talking about specific rooms and areas of the house, which is then mixed in with home movie footage.
Criterion then digs up a 1962 interview with Harold Lloyd from Dutch television, with the filmmaker talking about developing his “Glasses Character” before getting into other details, like how important it is for him to own his films and what he thinks of the films made at that time. It runs about 16-minutes.
The best and most fascinating section found on this release, though—and my favourite section of this whole disc—revolves around the presentation of a couple of Lloyd’s “Short Films.” The films included are Over the Fence and That’s Him! The two are rare, even considered lost at one point, and Criterion had to go to a bit of extra effort to get them here. Over the Fence comes from a 9.5mm print with the other from a 28mm print, which called for going to USC archivist Dino Everett for help transferring the films.
Everett even gets his own 11-minute interview where he talks about the unusual film sizes and the history behind them (both could be thought of as early “home video” formats) and he even shows off his rather elaborate film scanner, made specifically to scan any size of film. He also offers some interesting examples for how the formats worked (the 9.5mm film had an interesting feature that could pause frames for a few seconds and was delivered in a cartridge) and shows off some of the projector equipment.
The films themselves are fine, though it sounds like they are possibly incomplete, which is obvious with Over the Fences at least, apparently the first film to feature the “Glasses Character.” This one runs only 5-minutes and features Lloyd trying to fix a date to a ball game that goes horribly wrong. Everett explains that it wasn’t uncommon for the films to be truncated to fit on the format and unfortunately it appears this is the only copy of the film. That’s Him! is possibly complete, running 11-minutes. In this one Lloyd is his “Glasses Character” and he ends up getting confused for a thief, which leads to chases and hijinks (and I’ll just point out there is black face in the film).
Neither film is in terribly good condition, though Over the Fences looks better. It’s a bit blown out but the details aren’t too bad and Everett attributes this to the fact that most 9.5mm films were struck from the negatives. The other film is very dupey and very soft. Neither appear to have had any further restoration done but they are both presented in 1080i/60hz.
New scores were recorded for the films by Mark Herman, and Herman used a restored Wurlitzer pipe organ that belongs to composer Nathan Barr. Criterion ends up providing a 20-minute feature about this organ, featuring both Herman and Barr. Barr had an organ that belonged to 20th Century Fox Studio restored and installed in his home, where he could use it to record scores. This elaborate instrument (which Barr describes as a synthesizer from 1928) is a pipe organ that can create just about any sound, and after Barr and Herman give a history behind the instrument Barr then offers a tour through the various rooms (he had built specifically for this organ) that store all of the pipes and instruments that are used by it, with the console itself sitting on its own in a large screening room. I don’t know how to describe this organ other than it is insane. There are over a thousand pipes that all lead to pipes of differing sizes and types, and they even connect to other instruments (even a police siren!) so that any instrument can be played and any sound effect can be created from the console (which has a nightmare number of switches that look like they can be programmed). We hear various sounds, how they can be blended, and even see some of the innerworkings. I was just blown away by this supplement, endlessly captivating and beautifully put together, making it easy to understand how this incredibly complicated piece of machinery works. It’s early in the year but I’d be hard pressed to imagine a more fascinating supplement showing up this year.
The included insert then features an essay by Carrie Rickey, breaking down the narrative and examining how he constructs his gags.
A couple of features leave a bit to be desired, but on the whole the material is all good, with the section devoted to the short films and their respective restorations (and new scores using the Wurlitzer organ) being the standout. That section, on its own, is worth picking up this release for alone. 9/10