Grandma’s Boy (1922)

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  • directed by Fred C. Newmeyer
  • starring Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Anna Townsend, Charles Stevenson, Dick Sutherland
  • Always the mama’s boy, or in this case a grandma’s boy, Lloyd joins a posse after a tramp accused of robbery and murder.

Harold Lloyd took a much different approach with his second feature length film, Grandma’s Boy, than he did his first. A year earlier in 1921, A Sailor-Made Man ended up with so many jokes written into the script that he and Hal Roach just decided to film it all and edit later. Audiences ate up all of its 47-minute runtime, however, so it remained as it was. Grandma’s Boy, which clocked in at an even hour, felt much more like a statement by Lloyd and with even amounts of drama, action, pathos, and humor, it was more of a complete movie experience than a lot of the other silent comedy feature efforts during these years. This was not a series of elaborate, high flying jokes with specks of story added to tie everything together. Instead it was a character’s journey with Lloydian humor added afterwards to help nudge it along.

Lloyd’s character in this film was familiar; the same timid, bespectacled, and well-meaning everyman that he had already hung off of buildings, thrown in the mud, and perfected over the preceding five years. This guy doesn’t go after what he wants and his only desires seem to be quiet, security, to get through the day, and a little romance with his girl. As it happens in all of his films, though, life has a way of forcing itself onto him no matter how fast he runs away from it. Here after an entire first half of trying to be sweet and coming up short of advancing his cause with Mildred Davis’ character, he unwillingly gets recruited into the sheriff’s team as they pursue a rough and violent criminal.

As a guy who is uncomfortable with something as small as going to the grocery store, this is obviously a tall order, so he flails around practicing his fighting skills on a sack of hay until his grandmother steps in with a secret. The film takes a sharp and welcome left turn with the story she tells of her husband (Harold Lloyd in attitude and appearance except for bushy sideburns in the flashback scene) during the Civil War. Just as he thinks he won’t be able to muster the courage to fight, a witch-like figure appears to give him a wooden idol with magical powers. This transforms the soldier into someone powerful, fast thinking, and suave. This flashback scene was actually the short film that Grandma’s Boy was constructed around. Back in the present, she gifts her grandson with the same idol, which puts him on the hero’s path of beating the criminal, winning the girl, and finally coming into his own as a functional man all while desperately clutching onto the idol as if it were a new life source, not the fabricated-by-Grandma hunk of junk umbrella topper that it was in reality.

Lloyd, in bringing his trademark comedy style to a film with a proper arc and various dramatic elements, did a lot to advance his character with audiences and set the stage for a lot of the traditional and hugely successful comedies that would come in his future.

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all the things I should have seen

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