TCM Film Fest: Girl Shy

Until a few weeks ago, the only Harold Lloyd films I’d seen were his signature Safety Last with its famous building-climbing set-piece, and The Freshman, which I cannot, at this point, separate in my mind from Keaton’s College. Lloyd is one of the Big Three when it comes to silent comedians, but in terms of the popular consciousness, he still falls well below Chaplin and Keaton, and I was content with his third-wheel position based on what I’d seen. After a recent double-feature at Cinefamily, I was primed to change my view on that, and Girl Shy clenched it. Lloyd is every bit as worthy a giant of silent comedy as either of his rivals. They’re all in a dead heat as far as I’m concerned.

Lloyd’s essential persona is a normal, slightly nerdy guy who deals with problems as they come along, usually involved with trying to get a girl. He has neither Chaplin’s downtrodden acceptance nor Keaton’s stoic stubbornness in the face of the outrageous situations that befall him, but instead shows his exasperation and yet continues to push through toward his goal. In Girl Shy, his own worst enemy for much of the film is himself, and his irrational fear of women that causes him to be flustered and stutter uncontrollably whenever a girl comes near him. It doesn’t help matters that he’s adorable and girls tend to flirt with him, even to the point of tearing their stockings so he can fix them (he’s the tailor’s son in a small town).

However, he shows quite another side, in fantasy at least, as he writes a book from the point of view of a womanizer, explaining in each chapter (and dramatized on screen for our delight) how to win different types of women – the vamp, the flapper, etc. While taking the finished book to a publisher in the city, he helps a girl (regular Lloyd costar Jobyna Ralston, who I kind of have a girlcrush on right now) hide her dog from the train conductor and loses his stutter completely as he gets wound up telling her about his book. A match made in heaven, except his lack of money (compared to her privileged background) leads him to convince her he doesn’t care about her.

It eventually leads to an absolutely incredible chase from town to city when he discovers she’s about to marry someone else, using every mode of conveyance possible. This is the big set-piece of the film, and like the building climbing in Safety Last, it basically takes up the last third of the film or so. This is more akin to Keaton’s fantastic driver-less motorcycle chase in Sherlock Jr, though, except Lloyd constantly changes from car to car to horse to carriage to streetcar and everything else you could possible ride in the 1920s. It’s one of the most thrilling sequences I’ve ever seen. But that’s true of many silent comedy set-pieces. What sets Girl Shy apart is how endearing and genuine the rest of the film is; my major complaint against Safety Last is that no matter how much I love the last part (and I do), the rest of the film doesn’t do a lot for me.

The screening was accompanied by the Robert Israel Orchestra, who does most of the scores TCM commissions for the silent films they play. It was jazzy and very ’20s in feel, and worked perfectly with the film. I don’t always mind more avant-grade or unusual approaches to silent film music – the bombastic score played with Metropolis two years ago was awesome – but for this, the score we heard was exactly right. The screening wasn’t packed out, but it was a good crowd, and the gasps and cheers as Lloyd careened his way through the streets reminded me just how inadequate it is to watch silent films at home alone. The audience is half the fun, and that was truly the case here. For me, this was the best screening of the festival, and easily my favorite new-to-me film.

Director: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor
Written by: Sam Taylor, Ted Wilde & Tim Whelan (story), Thomas J. Gray (titles)
Producer: Harold Lloyd
Starring: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Richard Daniels, Carlton Griffith
Year of Release: 1924
Running Time: 80 min.
TCMFest Film Guide
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Flickchart (formerly unranked; now #368 out of 2892)

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kimd
Guest

Best review of any Lloyd film.Have to say,Chaplin is number one to me,but Lloyd and Keaton are neck and neck for second and third.Not a bad quandry.You’re right.Harold is very cute,very normal,everyday person,as opposed to Chaplin.Thank you for posting.

Jericho Slim
Guest

I am so going to the TCM festival next year. Jandy do you know about how soon ahead of time they start selling passes?

Bob Turnbull
Admin

Great review Jandy, even though we kind of differ on overall assessments between “Girl Shy” and “Safety Last” – I prefer the latter overall (I know what you mean about the pre-wall climb, but still prefer that section to Girl Shy’s lead up).

But that final section of “Girl Shy” is fantastic and I envy you greatly for having seen it on the screen with a large crowd. I’m shaking my fist your way as I type this…B-)

Jandy
Guest

I should rewatch Safety Last at some point; I just remember being kind of bored until the wall climb, but I also wasn’t as attuned to silent film then as I am now. In any case, every bit of Girl Shy worked for me, and then yeah, that last section is gangbusters. It’s amazing that silent comedians actually did some of the best and most thrilling action scenes ever.

And yeah, I’m convinced that a good audience makes a huge difference in watching silent film. Most of the ones I’ve loved I’ve seen in theatres, and when I watch them at home it’s much more difficult to get into, especially on a first viewing. I guess that’s a hurdle I’ll have to overcome, though. I can’t trust even LA’s rep scene to play every silent I want to watch.

trackback

[…] I wouldn’t say Harold Lloyd is a recent discovery for me as I continue my odyssey through silent film; I saw Safety Last quite a while ago and always included him as one of the great silent comedians. But beyond that obligatory name-checking, I hadn’t had a lot of exposure to his work. I was very grateful to put that to rights this month with not one but THREE Lloyd films seen at the TCM Fest and at Cinefamily, and the presentation of Girl Shy at the Egyptian Theatre will definitely go down as a lifetime filmgoing highlight. This film is awesome, taking the nerdy, girl-shy Harold through a series of misadventures whereupon he meets a girl and overcomes his stuttering shyness as he tells her about his book – which is about how to get all kinds of women to fall in love with you. It’s extremely charming and quite funny, and all capped off with one of the most incredible chase stunt sequences I’ve ever seen, and yes, I’m including Keaton’s motorcycle chase in Sherlock Jr. in that assessment. Just when you think Lloyd has done about all he can do with this gag, he tops himself and does something even more gasp-worthy. Insta-favorite. Full review on Row Three. […]

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