Friday, August 22, 2008

Movies About Movies Blog-a-thon

“Movie Crazy” (1932) gives us Harold Lloyd in an interesting and effortless transition from his silent movie comedy techniques to the world of sound. Probably because he brings his sight gags with him, some of them tried and true, and some of them delightfully unexpected, but with the addition of some witty dialogue.

Lloyd is fortunate to have Constance Cummings as his leading lady, and her early departure from Hollywood after a handful of movies in the early 30’s was Hollywood’s loss. Here she gives a performance that is natural, engaging, and free from the typical affectation of the period.

Back home in Kansas, small-town, star-struck Lloyd exasperates his parents with his dreams of movie stardom, playacting a topical scene of the day about a man losing his money in the Wall Street crash, as he imagines the coffee grinder his mother is turning is really a camera. A mistake and miscommunication lands Lloyd his Hollywood contact, and he dreams of fame.

When Lloyd arrives on the Chief (of course, like all hopeful movie actors), he stumbles, literally, upon a film in progress on the station platform. An elegant Spanish lady emotes to her leading man, played by Kenneth Thomson. After bumbling through a disastrous walk-on part, our over-eager Harold gets kicked off the set. As the cast disbands, the Spanish lady tosses a stray rose to the props guy, but Harold catches it instead, thinking she has thrown the rose to him as a love offering, and he is smitten.

But his career comes first. He doggedly pursues his screen test, which is then viewed by the execs in the screening room. Harold could not be more inept, but what is engaging about his character and this film is the refusal to make Harold a pathetic object. He is as much a victim of his own flaws as this confusing and sophisticated new world of movie making. He is just as full of actor’s pompous conceit as he is charmingly unassuming while becoming buddies with Constance Cummings.

They meet in the rain, after a very funny bit about losing his shoe down a storm drain leads one thing to another. She tries to put up the convertible roof of her roadster and he unsuccessfully tries to help is a fine bit of comedy from them both. They are a perfect blend of his silent physical comedy and her witty 1930s screwball sarcasm, as she finally in desperation hollers at him, “Will you do me favor? Will you just walk away?!” And when he all but destroys her car she sarcastically retorts, “Can I go now?”

She ultimately takes pity on him, takes him into her home and allows him to change into one of her pants outfits while his clothes dry, which shows her and us that Harold is both a good sport and more comfortable about himself than most of the actors with brittle egos she has known in Hollywood. This includes the leading man with the drinking problem, played by Thomson, whom she would like to discourage. When Thomson visits, begging her to take him back, Cummings asks Harold to remain as a kind of chaperone. It’s a funny scene, as he sits in the background stone still while a scene of movie-quality angst is played before him. We are fascinated by his fascination.

Eventually, this lout Thomson becomes Harold’s rival. There is a sweet and charming moment when, in the middle of an argument, Cummings and Harold kiss and are stunned to acknowledge their attraction for each other. We also see, in a clever scene when the Spanish lady removes her wig she is actually Constance. When she discovers Harold is smitten with the Spanish lady, Constance becomes jealous and plays tricks on him to get him to choose between them.

The climax is a scene within a scene, as Harold stumbles upon a movie set with Constance and Thomson playing at being victim and villain. The camera pans back as an enormous ship’s hold becomes not a thing of grim, rugged reality but an illusion, with the set of a city skyline behind it showing that there are other films being shot all around, and none of those worlds are real, either.

Harold, at once amazed and taken in by this, is nevertheless duped into becoming emotionally involved in the scene on the ship when Thomson threatens him to stay away from Constance, and then dramatically declares he would kill Constance before he let another man have her. When Thomson takes his place on the set and Constance plays at being his prisoner on board the ship, Harold cannot help but try to save her. The movie world has become real. There is a prolonged, athletic, and inventive fight scene between Thomson and Harold, as the ship’s hold fills with water. Popeye and Bluto never duked it out so outrageously.

This is a film where were are reminded in visuals that this is a fake world, and that stardom is rare, and that there is more heartbreak in Hollywood waiting for the stranger who comes here than there is the chance of a break. This is merely a public service announcement. Instead, in true move fairy tale fashion, Harold gets the fame, gets the girl. A movie exec sees his “fight scene” and decides to give him a contract to play not heroes, but comics because that is where he is most talented.

We can only agree. And the message of heartbreak for anyone bound for Hollywood is rescinded. Dreams do come true here after all. It’s the bread and butter of the industry.

For more blogs on movies about movies, kindly have a look at Goatdog's blog-a-thon this weekend.


Thom said...

Slapstick meets screwball in the land of make believe. Your write-up has whet my appetite for this one, Jacqueline. I'm going to hunt it down. Is it on DVD as part a Lloyd collection?

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Hi, Thom. Thanks for stopping by. I don't know if this one is on DVD yet. I saw it TCM a while back. Can't remember when. I hope you do get a chance to see. You just see the era turning right in front you, almost like a change of seasons.

goatdog said...

It's on one of the Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection discs, but I can't remember which one. I think the film is one of his best, and the finale on the movie set is one of the greatest sustained "trajectories" (using Keaton's term) in the history of comedy.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks for the info, Goatdog, and for the opportunity to be part of your fun blog-a-thon.

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