Baseball, NYC, & Harold Lloyd: Speedy, the Blu-ray Review

Harold Lloyd’s last silent comedy, Speedy, delivers the laughs and thrills that we expect from the comic genius. As an additional bonus, it provides substantial views of New York City in the roaring 20s–much of it shot on location. The pace is as fast as you’d expect from a movie called Speedy.

But Lloyd’s only film of 1928 doesn’t quite come up to his best work. Lloyd’s screen persona worked best in a strong story with room for his character to mature and win the audience’s heart. You’ll find that in his best films, such as The Kid Brother and The Freshman. Speedy just provides laughs–and when you come right down to it, that’s enough.

Harold Lloyd neither wrote nor directed his films. But he starred in them, produced them, and had final control. I consider him to be their auteur.

Speedy is basically a collection of gags and extended comic sequences, with little to connect them except that they’re happening to the same person. The movie sets up a real plot early on, then forgets its, and finally brings it back for the exciting finale.

Lloyd’s character is almost the opposite of his Safely Last go-getter. He’s a slacker, too crazy about baseball to hold a job for long. His mind is on the Yankees, not his work. He also spends time with his girlfriend (Ann Christy) and her lovable old grandpa (Bert Woodruff). Grandpa owns the last horse-drawn trolley car line in New York. The main conflict, such as it is, involves the big, evil corporation that wants his track but isn’t willing to pay him what it’s worth.

A long sequence at Coney Island has nothing to do with the story, but it provides a view of what is now a lost world. It also delivers a great many jokes. Not all of them work (I got tired of the lobster quickly), but others land beautifully. A sequence where Harold tries desperately to keep his new suit clean generates a lot of laughs–a combination of flawless construction and believable exaggeration of a common experience.

Another great sequence has Harold (or Speedy; his nickname) failing miserably at driving a cab. One would-be passenger after another proves a loss from either bad luck or Harold’s own ineptitude. His idol, Babe Ruth (in a cameo as himself), takes a ride in the cab, only to be terrified by Harold’s horrible driving.

The plot returns in the final half hour, and it’s here that Speedy is at its best. To save the trolley route, Harold leads a bunch of old tradesmen against a much younger gang of thugs. Needless to say, the thugs don’t have a chance. And then Lloyd stages one of his best chases as he brings the trolley in on time.

Like all comedies, Speedy works best with a crowd. If you buy this Blu-ray, invite some friends over to see it.

Now if Criterion would only release Kid Brother on Blu-ray.

First Impression

Speedy comes in a standard Criterion plastic box, with a cover that suggests the Coney Island sequence. In addition to the disc, you’ll find a foldout dominated by an article, “The Comic Figure of the Average Man,” by Phillip Lopate. I’ll just say that Lopate and I, while both loving Lloyd, have very different views about what makes his best work.

The foldout also contains movie credits and Criterion’s usual “About the Transfer.”

The home screen, with the standard Criterion menu, comes up the first time you put in the disc . The options are Movie, Timeline, Chapters, Commentary, and Supplements. There are no audio or subtitle options. The next time you insert the disc, you’ll get an option to go back to where you left off.

How It Looks

The 1080p transfer, scanned at 4K from a fine-grain master positive, looks good but seldom excellent. Nothing to complain about, but nothing like the sharp and near-perfect Criterion transfer of The Freshman.

How It Sounds

Carl Davis composed and conducted this jazzy and fun score in 1992. Some Civil War music, also used in his score for The General, pops up in the battle scene.

Criterion presents this music in uncompressed, 24-bit, two-track stereo PCM. It sounds great.

And the Extras

  • New commentary (recorded this year) by Bruce Goldstein, director of repertory programming at New York’s Film Forum, and Scott McGee, director of program production at Turner Classic Movies. They recorded it together, and their banter together makes it especially enjoyable.
  • In the Footsteps of “Speedy”: 1080p, 31 minutes. Goldstein visits and discusses the locations. A lot of fun, seeing parts of New York then and now, and explaining the differences between NYC and LA locations.
  • Babe Ruth: 1080p, 40 minutes. I only got a few minutes into this selection of newsreel footage of the baseball star, compiled and narrated by David Filipi of the Wexner Center’s film/video department. It would probably interest people who care about baseball.
  • Narrated Stills: Deleted Scenes: 1080p, 4 minutes. Narrated by Goldstein. Short and sweet; and tantalizing. I’d like to see more of those lost scenes.
  • Home Movies:1080i; 18 minutes. Lloyd’s home movies, from “around the time that Speedy was made.” They’re concentrated on his children, and narrated by his granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd. Interesting and enjoyable. It gives the impression he was a great father.
  • Bumping into Broadway: 26 minutres, 1080i. This 1919 short is the first two-reeler with the glasses character. Not much of a story, but some good sight gags, and it closes with a wonderful indoor chase that reminded me of Chaplin’s The Adventurer. Music by Robert Israel.