The Kid Brother by matthew c. hoffman

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“Nineteen twenty seven was a good year for silent comedy. It saw the release of Buster Keaton’s The General, a film considered to be not only his masterpiece, but one of the greatest American films ever made. But 1927 also saw the release of what has been acknowledged as Harold Lloyd’s best, and his own personal favorite of all his films, The Kid Brother. Though its reputation has increased over the years since Harold’s death in 1971, it’s still relatively obscure by popular standards. That’s a shame because an argument could be made that tonight’s film is the highlight of the whole program. It’s certainly my favorite in the series…” — beginning of my introduction to The Kid Brother

This entry is more of a postgame analysis than a detailed examination of the film, but I want to record my impressions of the evening while they are still fresh…

Except for Speedy, which was screened off-site at the Pickwick Theatre, tonight’s showing of Harold Lloyd’s The Kid Brother brought in the largest attendance thus far for the Park Ridge Public Library’s “Legends of Laughter” film series. The only thing better than getting a full house is the sound of kids laughing and experiencing their first silent movie. Actually, we had all age groups tonight, and it was the best reaction to any film I’ve played. (The place went bananas when “Chicago” the monkey tried to steal the show.) Hearing people applaud at the right moments made it all worthwhile.

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We began the evening early at 6:20 with Harold’s short film, Just Neighbors (1919), followed by two featurettes entitled “Greenacres” (about Harold’s famous estate) and “Harold’s Hollywood: Then and Now” (with Annette D’Agostino Lloyd as our tour guide). After the greeting at 7 PM, I played Harold’s one-reeler The Non-Stop Kid (1918). The talk that followed on the feature presentation was not as long as the previous week’s. Besides the fact that I don’t want to be known as the non-stop talking kid, I did not want to reveal too many secrets of a film I knew most had not seen before.

Harold Lloyd is proving to be the biggest surprise for those who are experiencing his films for the first time. I think part of the draw is that Harold is one of us. Based on his characterizations– as well as the documentaries I’ve played, which familiarize us with the Lloyd family– people feel closer to Harold… I think Buster Keaton remains a mystery to some and an unfathomable puzzle, and Chaplin is on some other plane of genius altogether, but people seem to feel more of a personal bond with Harold. He brought the common touch.

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There’s that wonderful moment in The Kid Brother when Harold Hickory climbs the tree in the hope of getting a better look at Mary (Jobyna Ralston), the girl from the medicine show, as she descends down the hill. He climbs higher and higher in order to watch her and call out to her. Thanks to Walter Lundin’s brilliant elevation of the camera, the scene is one of the most memorable in the film. It’s one moment of  many that makes me emotional in a way no other comedy has. The communal environment of the audience brings it out even more. The ending of City Lights comes to mind, of course, but for me, there are more sustained moments of emotional and cinematic beauty in The Kid Brother. It was heartening to see that I was not alone in feeling this. Shortly after this wonderful moment in the film, one of our loyal regulars turned around and whispered to me, “This is good!”

Another of our regulars came up to me after the show and said that now this one was her favorite of Lloyd’s. (With each one we play she has a new favorite! This tells you how well his films are going over.) I designed the program so that we would see his best in the second half of the series. Our first Harold film in March, Safety Last, is a great film and received a wonderful reaction of its own, but Harold was more than a daredevil comic known for hanging off a clock.

Harold nevertheless managed to work in some daredevil thrills in The Kid Brother

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My friends sometimes ask me who my favorite is, and I prefer not to give a definite answer because all three Legends are so unique. I’m always rather vague about it. I admire Chaplin’s poetry in pantomime, and Keaton– the most silent of the clowns– was a genius with the camera. People know Chaplin and Keaton, and as long as movies are playing on screens fans will debate the merits of their legacies. But moviegoers need to become more aware of the full spectrum of our comedy heritage– specifically, the heritage Harold Lloyd has left us.  I asked my audience to always remember Harold and films like The Kid Brother

One patron thought his films should be shown in school. Considering what kids are being shown today, I don’t think that’s a bad idea. The Kid Brother is clean and decent and just plain good. It’s filled with what author Annette D’Agostino Lloyd called a “warm beauty” which, in my eyes, reflects back off the screen. But on a technical level as well, how it is shot and constructed, it should be taught in film school.  There are few films we can call perfect, but The Kid Brother is one of them. It’s a distinctly American masterpiece.

A full house!
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Your program host (center) with two generations of movie fans: The Kilroys.
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