Thursday, June 21, 2007

An Eastern Westerner (1920)

Harold Lloyd in “An Eastern Westerner” (1920) plays a rich milquetoast (do the younger folk of today even know that word?) who is sent by his father, after carousing all night in a dance hall where “Shimmie Dancing Prohibited” to an uncle’s ranch Out West as a punishment.

The plot is thin, the gags are constant, and hapless Harold Lloyd finds himself saving a damsel in distress and her father from the town bully. Like silent screen clown counterparts Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Lloyd does this through pluck, conscience, acrobatics, ingenuity, and a lot of dumb luck.

Unlike Chaplin and Keaton, Mr. Lloyd has a strange kind of modernity to him. Where Chaplin played the classic Little Tramp, a fellow who could have stepped out of the pages of Dickens to visit the 1920s, and Keaton, who played a wider range of roles in different historical time periods nevertheless still carried turn-of-the-20th century American Everyman about him, Lloyd was different. Harold Lloyd rode on the crest of the wave of public interest that had to do with the frivolous young college set, and he looked hopelessly collegiate.

Perhaps it is his round glasses which makes him seem like a modern day nerd, without any other affectation to his screen character (Chaplin’s costume or Keaton’s flat hat). Lloyd would make a credible computer geek today.

His antics to save The Girl, played by Mildred Davis, and her sausage curls from Tiger Lip Tompkins (Noah Young), the bully and his rather KKK-styled hooded gang called “The Masked Angels,” who we are told are “men who have broken eight commandments and twisted the other two,” Lloyd’s fighting is never direct but a kind of guerrilla tactic involving all the props one can find in an alley. There is an especially neat stunt when he hides in a wooden barrel, which is set to rolling and quickly smashes against a porch with the staves coming apart and the Lloyd entangled in the hoops.

Another fun scene is when Lloyd sits in at a game of cards and a tough hombre rolls his own cigarette with one hand while concentrating on his hand of cards. Lloyd tries to imitate him and comes out with a handful of factory-perfect cigarettes at once. Luck is occasionally with him.

In the silent screen days, at least with the comedies, the gags were the foundation of the plot, which was loosely constructed around the gags. It is as if a modern-day stage magician started to form a story around the tricks he performs for us on stage. The tricks are the purpose of the act; the story is just to string us along until the next trick.

The wild and wooly western town is actually quite realistic-looking, with its uneven streets and alleys and run-down structures. It looks more realistic than the neatly laid out and painted western towns of the B-westerns of a couple of decades later. Perhaps because 1920, when the film was made, was a bit closer to the wild west days than the late 1940s.

The film closes after one more stunt with a train, the damsel saved, and Mr. Lloyd takes a pencil and draws a circle around her ring finger, indicating they are to wed. It is the kind of thing Chaplin would do because the Little Tramp never had any money, but wealthy young college boy Lloyd should have been able to wire home for the dough to purchase a diamond. At the very least, such a gesture illustrates how much the film contemporaries borrowed from each other.

This film is also noted for being shot just after Mr. Lloyd lost part of his right hand in a stunt on a previous film, though his flesh-colored prosthetic glove and his superb athletic ability never reveals to the audience that he is now with a handicap. Like the character he played, he always found a way around a problem and never gave up.

That's all for this week. See you Monday.

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Harold Lloyd Movies

2 comments:

Anna said...

Nice job highlighting such a great film. Have you ever seen this video from Eastern Westerner?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ssyh5emWBD4

It's a scene from a silent film put to rock music which VERY rarely works, but I think it really does here, it's one of my favourite video oddities.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks for the comment and the link, Anna. Always knew Harold Lloyd was too cool for words. Guess that's why he didn't need any.