THE KID BROTHER is Harold Lloyd's finest film and one of the most underrated silent comedies ever made. Shot partly on California's Catalina Island, this gorgeously photographed movie pits Lloyd's familiar bespectacled wimp against fire, water, scorn, bullies, thieves, and a manic monkey.
The most prominent family in the backwoods town of Hickoryville, the Hickory clan consists of Jim (Walter James), his two older sons, Leo (Leo Willis) and Olin (Olin Francis), and Harold (Harold Lloyd), their kid brother. Harold is a puny lad who has been forced by the bullying of his brawny
brothers and by the pressures of his endless household responsibilities to develop special reserves of ingenuity in compensation for his lack of size and muscle.
One day, while posing as his father--the local sheriff--Harold issues a permit to a traveling medicine show. A little later, he meets and is smitten by Mary Powers (Jobyna Ralston), a member of the troupe, whom he protects from the unwelcome advances of Sandoni (Constantine Romanoff), another
member of the medicine show. When Jim finds out about the permit, he sends his youngest son to shut down the show. The boy succeeds only in getting himself humiliated and, in the process, the show is burnt to the ground. Harold takes Mary, who is now homeless, under his wing and she moves in with
neighbors of the Hickorys.
The citizens of Hickoryville have all chipped in to build a dam. Entrusted to Jim for safekeeping, the dam money is immediately stolen by Sandoni and an accomplice, Farrell (Eddie Boland). Associating Mary with the robbery, the townspeople attack her and, in the process of defending her, Harold is
knocked unconscious and set adrift in a rowboat. Meanwhile, the citizenry seize Jim, accuse him of theft, and prepare to lynch him.
Harold's rowboat drifts out towards a large, derelict ship. Upon boarding her, he discovers the real thieves and the missing loot. A long and fierce battle ensues between Harold and Sandoni. Harold eventually wins the fight and returns to town with Sandoni and the stolen money in tow. There he is
greeted as a hero, but it is his father's pride in him that he cherishes the most. Brimming with newfound confidence, Harold gives his lifelong nemesis, Hank Hooper (Ralph Yearsley), a good licking, then walks away in the arms of his sweetheart, Mary.
Someone changed the film's working title, "The Mountain Boy," to THE KID BROTHER, and it was a wise move. THE KID BROTHER identifies the movie's theme as efficiently and quintessentially as LONESOME (1928), THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931), and MEAN STREETS (1973) identify theirs. The title tells it all.
Being a kid brother often carries with it a sense of oppression or insufficient appreciation. Anyone who has been the youngest sibling in his or her family will empathize with Harold Hickory, whose struggle for acceptance by--and survival within--his own family has driven him to the extremes of
screwball resourcefulness. A rube Rube Goldberg, the overworked Harold has devised a method of simultaneously wringing and hanging out the family wash--and so conditioned is he to trouble that he prepares for a visit to his neighbor's house, which he knows is guarded by a ferocious dog, by
bringing along a live decoy cat.
With the possible exception of his human fly in SAFETY LAST (1923), Lloyd's best known screen role is the title character in THE FRESHMAN (1925). As sympathetic as that character is, his tribulations and humiliations pale beside those of Harold Hickory. The worst that the Freshman has to undergo
is the disintegration of his tuxedo at a dance, whereas the Kid Brother's trial by fire is another matter entirely. Ordered by his father to shut down the medicine show, Harold is tricked by Farrell into allowing his hands to be cuffed behind his back. Then Sandoni hoists him up onto a trapeze.
Then a monkey pops out and snatches his hat. Then Hank Hooper pokes him the chest with a rod until he is swinging wildly back and forth over a lit gas jet. Then he kicks over the flame, which starts a fire which escalates until it starts to roast his dangling body. When one considers that all of
this is being witnessed by his father, his brothers, the only girl in the world, and half of the town, one begins to realize that the Kid Brother is playing for significantly higher stakes than the Freshman.
Although its last two reels are as action-packed and suspenseful as the climax of any comedy extant, THE KID BROTHER is not all thrills and spills. Among its many additional assets are two wonderful romantic moments. The first occurs as Mary and Harold part after their first encounter. As she
walks down a long ridge, she gradually begins to disappear below the horizon of Harold's sight. In order to prolong his view of her, the infatuated boy climbs an incredibly tall tree, pausing periodically to shout and wave at his beloved. The higher he climbs, the longer he (and the audience) is
able to see her. The second moment is captured in the movie's beautifully timed final shot, when Harold and Mary are walking side by side, away from the camera. Harold shyly suspends his arm behind her waist, and then her shoulder, but cannot summon the courage to actually make contact. Just when
he gives up and applies the free-floating arm to the scratching of his head, she puts her arm around his waist and he quickly extends his around her shoulders.
Harold Lloyd has come to be known as the "third genius." The other two, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, may have made films as fine as THE KID BROTHER, but they never surpassed it. (Violence.)
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- Review: THE KID BROTHER is Harold Lloyd's finest film and one of the most underrated silent comedies ever made. Shot partly on California's Catalina Island, this gorgeously photographed movie pits Lloyd's familiar bespectacled wimp against fire, water, scorn, bull… (more)