Friday, 9 May 2014

Get Out and Get Under (1920)

Please note: this review contains spoilers!

Depending on your age and depth of interest in movies, some of you may not have heard of Harold Lloyd but he was one of the most prolific silent movie stars in comedy who proved himself to more sympathetic a character than Keaton.  Most famous for his ‘glasses’ character, Lloyd made countless films as the ‘boy next door’ who was always striving to make it in the world or get the girl or both.

Get Out and Get Under is one of the short features Lloyd made in the guise of the ‘glasses’ character and it is a gem that packs a lot into its 25 minute running time.

In this film, Lloyd plays ‘The Boy’, which is how he was usually billed, with Mildred Davis playing his love interest, billed only as ‘The Girl’.  Get Out and Get Under comes in four distinct parts if you care to breakdown films in such a way – a photograph session, getting the car ready, the trip to the venue for an amateur dramatics play in which he has a starring role and the eventual arrival at the venue.

Opening up in a photography studio, we find Lloyd sitting in a chair with his head held in a torturous device designed to keep one’s head still.  You wouldn’t think that sitting still would prove to be so difficult but a fly and a runaway mouse cause more than a few problems.  Lloyd’s character is also full of nerves due to wanting to ask his sweetheart to marry him until the photographer reveals that he knows her from having taken her photograph earlier and that she is due to marry his rival that morning.  Cue a race to the church for Harold who arrives too late to stop the marriage.

Just as we are feeling sorry for ‘The Boy’, the scene changes to him lying in bed chewing through his pillow and being woken up by a phone call from ‘The Girl’ telling him that he is getting late for the amateur dramatics production he is starring in as The Masked Prince.  Lloyd packs his bag and goes out to the shed-cum-garage in which his new Model T Ford is lovingly stored.

We are given a lengthy preparation for departure in which Lloyd manages to show himself to be a really proud car owner, keeping the new car under a cover in a shed heated by an oil stove.  The shed-cum-garage backs onto a man’s garden and Lloyd doesn’t make much of a good impression on the gardener by throwing trash out of the shed’s window and onto the gardener, leading to an angry exchange between the men.

Ever proud of his car, when the gardener turns on his water hose and some of the water goes through the window, Lloyd immediately fusses about his baby, drying it off before starting the car with the starting handle.  The shed doors keep closing as he prepares to set off so he has to sort them out so that he doesn’t damage the car before promptly setting off, smashing through the back wall of the shed and destroying the garden behind when it transpires that the gear was left in reverse.  Totally unconcerned with any damage to the garden, he proudly boasts that there’s no damage to the car and sets off.

The trip to the venue is the longest section and has the most action and sight gags.  As is usual for Harold Lloyd films, we are in for a long chase scene and problems to overcome.  Despite being obsessed with his car’s safety, Lloyd really doesn’t take much due care and attention, driving off the road at the sight of a woman’s ankle and leaving the car to proceed driverless as he has to go and pick up his bag that finds itself not once but twice on the road.

During this sequence we have intercuts with preparations at the amateur dramatics production to show us just how late Lloyd is getting at any given time.  These sections are tinted with different colours to show the change in location.  As Lloyd is having trouble with his bag, the audience is assembling at the venue.

Despite being a new purchase (he has only two more payments to make before the car is fully his), Lloyd doesn’t have much luck with it as it breaks down outside a row of shops and, as he is checking that the fuel tank has some fuel in it with a lit match, he is being replaced by his rival as star of the show.  We are offered a number of brilliantly funny set-pieces involving an elderly lady and an African American child as well as a fantastic sight gag of Lloyd climbing into the engine compartment to try to fix the engine, seeing only a lone hand reaching out for the tools he needs.  When I say that the sequences involve a banana peel, a dog, and an ice cream, you get an idea of what’s involved.  Finally getting the car started again, using a method that has to be seen to be believed, Lloyd finds himself out of control of the vehicle, almost running down a police officer directing traffic and careering through a march for a mayoral candidate before ending up on a flat-bed trailer on a train.

Meanwhile, the production has started without Lloyd as he has trouble with the railroad workers and attracts the attention of a two motorcycle cops with whom he plays a game of cat and mouse to avoid involving an off-road detour and a moved ‘Road Closed’ sign.

Lloyd’s troubles continue, however, when a third motorcycle cop joins the chase and, when all three are in danger of catching him, Lloyd is forced to hide his car in a roadside tent which he promptly ends up driving off in and finally allows him to give the cops the slip.

Arriving at the venue mere moments before the end of the play, Lloyd manages to get his rival out of the way long enough to take the credit for the rival’s performance and get the undue admiration from his sweetheart.  The film ends with the couple riding off in the but not without drenching the departing audience with water from the fire hydrant that Lloyd yanks out of the ground, having forgotten to unchain the car.

Lloyd effortlessly shows just how good a performer he is with every single frame he is in and, despite the lack of dialogue, manages to convey everything he needs to (with a little help from the score by Robert Israel).  Mildred Davis doesn’t really get a lot of time to shine but is beautiful and successfully does what is needed in such a small role.

This comedy short is classic Lloyd from the period in which he was working with director Hal Roach, one of the biggest names in silent cinema comedy direction.  The film is action packed and, most importantly of all, drop dead funny.  If you are new to Harold Lloyd, Get Out and Get Under is a good place to start as it is short enough to give you a taster of his work without the need for a lengthy allocation of time.  It may not be his best but it certainly indicates what he can achieve.

The version reviewed comes from the 9-disc box set Harold Lloyd – The Definitive Collection released by Optimum Classics and Studio Canal on Region 2 DVD.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Please note: this review contains spoilers!

Richard Matheson's novel Bid Time Return forms the basis for an emotionally charged gentle science fiction romantic drama, scripted by the author himself.  Matheson is well-known for his ability to offer his readers or viewers something different and Somewhere in Time is a good example of that ability, blending romance, obsession and a rather unique take on time travel to give us a tragic love story with a bittersweet ending.

The film opens with a rather bizarre event – an old woman giving a young playwright a watch with the plea for him to “come back” for her – which really only gains significance eight years later when the playwright decides to return to his old college.  He decides to take a room at the neighbouring hotel and so the events set in motion eight years previously are set on their inevitable and tragic course.

The playwright, Richard Collier, played to perfection by the late Christopher Reeve, becomes obsessed with the photograph of an actress, Elise McKenna (played by Jane Seymour), he finds in the hotel’s museum and which provide the cue for a number of sleepless nights and lingering glances at the said photograph.  Driven by his obsession, he seeks out every bit of information he can find out about her and discovers that she is not only dead but was the old lady who gave him the watch eight years earlier.  Further investigation leads Collier to the Ms McKenna’s assistant and the few surviving items of personal belongings which include a book on time travel, written by Collier’s old philosophy professor.  Using the technique described in the book, Collier travels back in time to 1912 to meet his actress love.

During the 1912 scenes we meet the third pivotal character in our drama, W F Robinson, Ms McKenna’s agent (played by Christopher Plummer) who seems to have a very strange relationship with his client.  Equally obsessed with the young actress but for very different reasons, the two men find themselves at loggerheads throughout the two or three days Collier has with McKenna before he is yanked back to the present day.

A portrait of obsession, Somewhere in Time provides each of the main characters an obsession of sorts – Collier’s obsessive love for a woman he has never really met drives him to travel in time to meet her but will eventually lead to tragedy, McKenna’s obsessive love based on their short relationship in 1912 affects her life to such an extent that she willingly waited a lifetime to set in motion the events that would lead to their meeting and Robinson’s obsession with McKenna’s career (and not, as we are led to believe, a romantic obsession) finally drives her away.

Christopher Reeve gives the viewer the sense of his character's obsession with his love interest at just the right level that it remains believable even when the ultimate payoff ends in bittersweet tragedy whilst no one could fail to be enthralled by Jane Seymour’s performance as a woman who was willing to give up everything for a man she barely knew.  The scene in which Jane Seymour playing McKenna onstage in a play, going completely off-script to talk directly to Collier sitting in the audience, telling him just how much his presence had changed her life and how much she loves him, could melt even the stoniest heart.  Christopher Plummer gives an equally good performance, making the viewer at first despise his apparent ill-treatment of his client and then come to accept that what he was doing was not a malicious act of a romantically obsessed suitor but that of a man who wanted only the best for his client.

Somewhere in Time is much more than just a story of obsession though; it is a story of love at first sight, of love conquering all, of the lengths one will go to in the pursuit of love and it is a story that gives us a philosophical look at the consequences of time travel.  It is a character piece that manages to question our notions of time travel by giving us a ‘time travel through force of will’ method that also makes us question whether such a method would be possible because of the largely unknown potential of the human brain.

And with everything else this film gives us, Somewhere in Time also offers us both tragedy and joy in the final scene when the two lovers are reunited in death.  No words are needed, just the simple act of holding hands against a completely white background.

Somewhere in Time’s soundtrack perfectly brings to life the emotions for the viewer and continues to haunt the mind long after the film is over without overpowering the performances of the actors, something that more recent films are prey to.

Yes, the film has a bittersweet ending.  Yes, it is based on the well-worn cliché of love at first sight.  Yes, it has a method of time travel that people could argue is implausible.  However, this film is a beautifully shot piece of cinematic heaven for those who love romantic films and, as such, demands a place in any self-respecting romantic’s collection.

The version reviewed is that released by Anchor Bay Entertainment on Region 2 DVD.