The Criterionist – SPEEDY (1928)

By Darin Skaggs

 

If you were to ask me what the Harold Lloyd starring film Speedy means to me, I would say it is the one I owe my complete passion for film to. Now when I saw Ted Wilde’s fast paced comedy I became a fairly huge fan of the film. I had already seen and loved films like Citizen Kane, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Godfather. Movies I most likely watched due to film list like the American Film Institute for Greatest Films of All Time. Now I was making my way through the “classics” like said films and on those types of list you find a few silent pictures. You have loved films like Sunrise or ones from silent comedy stars like Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights or The Gold Rush and ones from Buster Keaton like The General or Sherlock Jr. If you do see the aforementioned Harold Lloyd on that list you will most likely see Safety Last!  and if they want to be a little different, The Freshman is the next one on the list. It was years ago though when I saw Speedy on Turner Classic Movies. This was while going through the AFI list. I noticed that Harold Lloyd was the star and I thought I might as well check it out. I did and I really loved it. I remember that movie that let me know to think for myself and to decide that any movie I watch could be a favorite of mine, it does not have to make any list. It is why I shamelessly like We Are Your Friends and Scorch Trials from last year and despise , but respect, Gone With the Wind. Speedy also led to my love for the Criterion Collection long before the movie was added to its extended catalog.

The underrated comedy begins like most of Harold Lloyd films with our hero (Lloyd) falling in love at first sight. He wants to take her out on dates so that she will fall in love with him, but he does not have any money. They have a fine time at Coney Island, but it is not enough. He then gets a job as a taxi driver and obviously because it’s a comedy he gets to many misadventures. There is also a side story where his girl’s father has the last horse drawn bus in the city and it is being threatened to be taken away or at least bought out. The comedy is top notch here and the film even has one of cinema’s first cameos from famous baseball player, Babe Ruth.

It is pretty odd that most of, and of course this movie, the love interest could only be won over by money. If Lloyd’s character has more money than he will have a better chance with the girl, this is the plot point in Safety Last! as well. Even Keaton and Chaplin did this. It seems wrong to have the women to have such strange priorities. It might have been because of that the Great Depression was happening or it was a close event, so money was an important thing to have. It might have just been the time and women did not get respect. It is worth pointing out I think, but it certainly doesn’t take away from the quality of the movie. Also the Babe Ruth cameo is great, but when we first see him he is doing charity for young kids. Now maybe Ruth was a good guy and did charity regularly, but this moment reeks of making a celebrity with bad publicity seeming like he is a saint. Again, these moments don’t ruin the film, but could be considered flaws.

That is it for big flubs that this movie has, otherwise it is really hilarious. The first big scene, there is three, is when Lloyd and his date go to Coney Island for a night of fun. The film goes from gag to gag, every one being at least as funny if not funnier than the last. There is a whole sequence where Lloyd has a crab in his pocket, he does not know this, and the crab keeps pinching butts and popping balloons. This gets him yelled at and he has no idea why. The third sequence is a wild chase to save the bus, which has Lloyd riding it like he is in some version of Ben-Hur. The second big scene is really where the film shines.   In Safety Last!, Lloyd creates the famous building climbing sequence. While that scene is tremendously funny, it is also incredibly stressful, giving off a fear that our hero might fall to his death at any moment. Here the second sequence is near that level of stress and humor. Our man realizes he needs more money to keep his girl happy, so he gets a job as a taxi driver. He has many moments here where things go terribly wrong for him. While all of these events are completely hilarious, they are also really stressful. You know that he needs to make money and without any customers he cannot fulfill that goal. Weather his door won’t open, his car gets stuck on the back of a truck or his customer gets punched clear out the other side of the vehicle, you feel for him, while also laughing at the perfect comedic timing.

Harold Lloyd made a genre out of the man struggling to have enough money to go out. He perfected it some may say. There is something heroic about a man that will climb a building or race through busy streets to get Babe Ruth to a baseball game just so his honey can have a fun night on the town. He is an underrated filmmaker and Speedy is one of his most underrated films.

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