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.

No comments:

Post a Comment