Tuesday, November 15, 2005

It's time for Harold Lloyd

Harold Lloyd, the forgotten man of the silent-film age, is ripe for rediscovery on a seven-DVD collection out Tuesday.

The Lloyd Collection (New Line, $90) includes 15 full-length films, 13 shorts and a bonus disc with home movies, photos and a gallery of Lloyd's 3-D photos, with glasses included. "It's a very expansive look at one of the great careers in movie history," says film historian Leonard Maltin, who details Lloyd's life in the DVD extras.

From 1912 to 1947, Lloyd made more than 200 films, including his classics The Freshman and Safety Last! Starting as an extra, he became a box-office champion, surpassing the popularity of the era's more famous funnymen, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

Over the Fence, a comedy short from 1917, was the first of a series of films that starred Lloyd as "The Glass Character," an ordinary guy with horn-rimmed glasses and pancake makeup. Audiences took to the character, and Lloyd began making feature-length films throughout the 1920s. He would do talking films, but his popularity waned in the '30s.

He is considered the father of romantic comedy and daredevil hijinks, suffering an accident in 1919 when a prop bomb temporarily blinded him and blew off his right thumb and index finger.

Lloyd also realized the audience's need to identify with a character.

"He's the beginning of what Tom Hanks is today," says Suzanne Lloyd, Lloyd's granddaughter and sole trustee of his film estate. Still, "people have no idea of who he is except an image of him hanging off a clock (in 1923's Safety Last!), and they will say, 'I know him. He's Buster Keaton.' No!"

Many of his films have gone unseen by generations because Lloyd owned the rights to his films and kept them off television because he thought commercials disrupted the story flow.

"Where Chaplin and, to a lesser degree, Keaton were always in the public eye, he was missing in action for quite a while," Maltin says.

Interviews include family friends Debbie Reynolds, Robert Wagner and director John Landis, who notes that Lloyd used a stopwatch to make sure he had enough gags per reel.

Before he died in 1971, Lloyd had begun restoring his films, a project his granddaughter, with help from the UCLA Film Archive, took over after his death. More than five years ago, she began looking for a studio to release the DVDs. She also is working on a deal for a remake of Safety Last! with producer Mark Gordon (The Day After Tomorrow).

Maltin says the silent film star translates well to modern times.

"Not many years ago at a film festival for a morning screening of The Freshman, they brought in a bunch of fourth- and fifth-grade kids," he says. "By the end of the film, they were cheering out loud as (Lloyd) ran up the field with the football. Harold still works his magic."

(Harold Lloyd wore a prosthetic right hand after losing a thumb and finger in a prop explosion in 1919).

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