It has several of the funniest, brilliantly designed, extended comedy sequences ever filmed. But it’s more than just a very funny movie. It makes you deeply want Harold to succeed. No one thinks much of the youngest, smallest, and weakest member of this all-male, very macho family headed by the town’s sheriff.
The Criterion Collection is now selling The Kid Brother on Blu-ray and DVD.
No one seems to notice that Harold Hickory is the smartest person in town. (Lloyd’s characters always have the first name Harold; only the last names change.) He has built contraptions to help him with his chores. He regularly outwits the large bully next door. When his much stronger brothers set out to beat him up, he tricks them into attacking their even stronger father. Harold doesn’t know how smart he is.
I’m not sure who said it, but at least one film historian claimed that unlike Chaplin or Keaton, Lloyd never made a period piece; all his movies were set in the Jazz Age present. But I’m not so sure about that with The Kid Brother. In the very rural town of Hickoryville, where the movie is set, there are no cars, no radios, no phones, and no electricity. The town seems stuck in the 1880s.
Lloyd never took director credit, but historians agree that he made his films. He produced them as well as starred. He depended on his writers and directors (in this case Ted Wilde and J.A. Howe), but he had the final say.
The arrival of a medicine show made up of two evil men and one innocent young woman (Jobyna Ralston) jumpstarts the plot. Harold, barely recognized as a grownup by his family, will have to vanquish the villains, win the lady fair, and save his father from a lynching to be recognized as someone special.
The climax of The Kid Brother is one of his best, balancing suspense and comedy as perfectly as in Safety Last. Harold and a very big and scary criminal (Constantine Romanoff) are trapped on a scuttled ship. The bad guy has every reason to kill Harold, and the strength to do it. The sequence is truly scary, but comic touches leaven the fright.
Confession: I have personal reasons to love this film beyond it being just plain great. The Kid Brother was the first silent film I saw properly – on a big screen (16mm), with an audience and live organ accompaniment. Another reason: Like Harold Hickory, I’m the youngest of three sons. Not surprisingly, The Kid Brother is on my A+ list.
How It Looks
The Kid Brother is easily Lloyd’s most beautiful film. Sunlight dabbles through trees and bounces off water. For the most part, Criterion’s 4K scan and mastering do the movie justice. It’s exceptional, clear, crisp and beautiful. Only one shot looked like it came from a poor source.
But there’s something strange here. The 2005 DVD had tints in a few scenes. This Blu-ray is strictly black and white. I liked the tints, and I don’t know don’t why they were removed for this version.
How It Sounds
Criterion gives us two music accompaniments for this silent film. Both are presented in uncompressed LPCM two-track stereo.
Carl Davis Orchestral Score: I’ve heard this 30-year-old score on VHS, 35mm, DVD, and now Blu-ray. It’s beautiful and romantic, touched with an Aaron Copland-like feel for old-time Americana. But it’s also exciting and funny. One of the best recorded silent film scores.
Gaylord Carter Organ Score: I’m pretty sure this is the score I heard in that first silent movie experience described above. That was also performed by Gaylord Carter, only year or two after this recording. It works, especially with the comedy, but it lacks the romance and nostalgia of Davis’ score. It was recorded with a small live audience, and you can occasionally hear people laughing or applauding.
And the Extras
- Foldout booklet: Criterion’s traditional paper-based supplement provides an article by Carrie Rickey which tells little about the making of the film, and a lot about why it’s so wonderful. The foldout also contains photos and credits for both the film and the Blu-ray.
- Audio commentary: Filmmaker and archivist Richard Correll, film historian Annette D’Agostino Lloyd, and Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd offer some interesting information about locations and supporting actors. But there’s too much praise for Lloyd, and way too much describing what’s on the screen.
- Harold’s Leading Ladies: 30 minutes. Author Cari Beauchamp and Suzanne Lloyd discuss his three major leading ladies: Bebe Daniels (they almost married), Mildred Davis (they got married), and Jobyna Ralston (they had an affair, but the marriage to Davis lasted anyway). Worth watching.
- Anatomy of a Gag: Monkeyshoes: Nine Minutes. One expects this video essay to be about one great sequence involving a tiny monkey wearing adult shoes. But instead, critic and filmmaker David Cairns talks about Lloyd’s character as a whole and very little about that one brilliant routine – which is very much worth a discussion.
- Behind-the-Scenes Stills: Watch at your own pace. Lloyd archivist Richard Simonton Jr. takes us through a collection of crew and cast photos. Intertitles proceed each photo.
- “The Kid Brother”: Close to Home: 16 minutes. John Bengtson, the brilliant detective of silent film comedy locations, takes us through a tour of the film’s shooting locations. His shorts are always worth watching.
- Greenacres: 15 minutes. Granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd takes us through a tour of Lloyd’s palatial estate. It often feels like Lives of the Rich and No Longer Alive. She clearly feels a lot of nostalgia for her childhood home and love for the grandparents who took her in when her own parents could not take care of her.
- Harold Lloyd: 16 minutes. Dutch television interview with Lloyd from 1962, at Greenacres. Moderately interesting as he talks about modern movies as well as his own. The final five minutes offer another tour of Greenacres.
Short Films: These are all about restoration and preservation – but in very different ways.
- Over the Fence: Five minutes. A recently rediscovered but incomplete copy of Harold Lloyd’s very first movie using his glasses character. What we have isn’t very good, but it’s historically important.
- That’s Him: 11 minutes. Another early glasses-character movie, recently restored and incomplete. It’s funnier than Over the Fence, but nothing compared to the works to come. Warning: There’s a character in blackface.
- Preserving Harold: 11 minutes. Both Over the Fence and That’s Him survived thanks to small formats intended for home use: 9.5mm and 28mm. Preservationist Dino Everett explains these formats and why these versions are incomplete. He also shows us the old projectors and the modern technology for restoration.
- The Wurlitzer: Nathan Barr and Mark Herman: 20 minutes. I loved this tour of a restored silent-era theater organ. Composer Nathan Barr and organist Mark Herman show how the audio magic of silent film worked. These analog “synthesizers” took up multiple rooms containing hundreds of pipes, percussion devices,and even a remote-controlled piano.