Harold Lloyd tends to get the short end of the stick in discussions of great silent comedians when stacked up against Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. His films may not achieve the same level of pathos and artistry as those contemporaries, but a film like Speedy is more than enough to convince one of his comic prowess — and here, the gags come fast and furious.
Speedy screened at Seattle’s magnificent Paramount Theatre Monday as part of Trader Joe’s Silent Movie Mondays. The current series features films set in New York City. Upcoming 2012 series includes early Oscar-winners and epics.
Lloyd’s final silent film, Speedy, is wonderful both as a high-octane comedy and a love letter to the developing New York City. Iconic images of Yankee Stadium and Coney Island mingle with the misadventures of Lloyd’s ne’er-do-well Harold “Speedy” Swift. Speedy can’t hold down a job, but he’s motivated to work hard when the horse-drawn trolley business of his girlfriend’s grandfather (Bert Woodruff) is threatened by progress advancing.
Lloyd plays a character unflagging in his persistence despite being foiled constantly by the world around him. A trip to the carnival at Coney Island with girlfriend Jane (Ann Christy) sees his brand new suit deteriorate from crisply fresh to paint-stained tatters. A stint as a taxi driver is filled with missed fares and run-ins with the law, until a surprise appearance by Babe Ruth himself might turn his luck around.
Speedy merges clever gags with broad slapstick to brilliant effect, and it’s hard to imagine even the most silent film-allergic to not respond to its kinetic visuals and encapsulation of 1920s New York.
This season’s Silent Movie Mondays feature acclaimed organist Jim Riggs on the Paramount’s beautifully maintained Wurlitzer — one of only three organs of its kind to still be housed in its original environment. Riggs is both a winningly genial host — he introduced the film with a series of anecdotes about the film’s production — and an adroit silent film accompanist.
Silent Movie Mondays will continue through the month of April with screenings of King Vidor’s The Crowd on April 18 and Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman on April 25. Tickets are $12 and are available for purchase online here.