Release Date(s)1927 (March 12, 2019)
Studio(s)The Harold Lloyd Corporation/Paramount Pictures (The Criterion Collection - Spine #964)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A+
The Kid Brother from 1927 has not received as much notice in recent years as Harold Lloyd’s better known silent comedy features Safety Last and The Freshman, yet film aficionados consider it one of his best. Depending more on emotion than slapstick, The Kid Brother centers on the Hickory family – the town sheriff and widowed father Jim Hickory (Walter James), and his three sons. Lloyd plays Harold Hickory, the youngest son, who is overshadowed by his bigger, brawnier siblings.
Mary Powers (Jobyna Ralston) temporarily moves in with the Hickory family after her medicine show burns down. All three brothers are attracted to Mary, but Harold uses his charm and wits to woo her. Much of the early part of the film is devoted to sight gags and scenes built around Harold outsmarting his brothers to get the upper hand.
Meanwhile, a large sum of money raised by the townspeople to build a dam has been left with Harold’s father for safekeeping. A pair of unscrupulous guys from the medicine show learn about the money and conspire to steal it.
When the theft is discovered, the townspeople assume the sheriff is the culprit. His two older sons fail in their attempt to catch the thieves and he is doomed to be hanged. Just when all appears lost, Harold steps in to retrieve the money and clear their father’s name, but not without a dangerous – and comic – confrontation with the thieves.
The Kid Brother reflects Harold Lloyd’s facility with slapstick and film technique. A long sequence in which Harold outsmarts his brothers as they try to attempt to win the affection of Mary involves sight gags, clever use of props, split-second timing, and surprise. The sequence is a comic centerpiece. The scenes in which Harold is eluding the bad guys include a monkey wearing men’s shoes, a villain immobilized inside life preservers, and a chase aboard a beached ship. But rather than a set of unrelated gags, The Kid Brother deals with serious consequences. How will Harold prevent his father from being lynched?
Harold Lloyd, though immensely popular during the silent period, today runs third in name recognition to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. His “glasses character,” featured in The Kid Brother, was developed after a few career missteps as he tried to create a memorable screen image. Lloyd’s screen characters were milquetoasts who managed to get themselves into complex, comic situations. The Kid Brother balances humor, sentiment, and action in a simple, but engaging story.
The Blu-ray release features a new 4K digital restoration by The Criterion Collection utilizing original 35mm master positive elements preserved at the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Aspect ratio of the black-and-white film is 1.33:1. An orchestral score by composer Carl Davis from 1989 accompanies the film. An alternate organ score performed by Gaylord Carter is also included. Picture quality is very good, considering the age of the film, with deep blacks and nice gradations of grey throughout. Scenes in the Hickory house at night are dimly lit, with occasional shots of a raging rainstorm outside. Details such as wood grain in the doors and table, a raging medicine show fire, driving rain, and shimmering water stand out and add texture. A special effect involving a huge amount of dust rising from a fist fight is elaborate for the time and quite effective.
Bonus materials include the following:
Audio Commentary – Harold Lloyd archivist Richard Correll, film historian Annette D’Agostino Lloyd, and Suzanne Lloyd (Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter) describe The Kid Brother as a “directorial merry-go-round” because a series of directors worked on the film. A ship was purchased for the production and beached and several scenes were shot onboard. This was Jobyna Ralston’s last of six films as Lloyd’s leading lady. Brief overviews of the supporting cast are provided, and the movie is referred to as “a beautiful combination of character, emotion, and gags.” The trio of commentators discuss the cleverness of the scene in which Harold simplifies kitchen chores. The monkey in the ship sequences was named Chicago and was also featured in Our Gang comedies. The Kid Brother is “one of the greatest films of the silent era.”
Harold’s Leading Ladies – Author Cari Beauchamp and Suzanne Lloyd discuss the careers of three actresses who co-starred with Lloyd throughout his career – Bebe Daniels, Mildred Davis, and Jobyna Ralston.
Anatomy of a Gag: Monkeyshoes – Critic and filmmaker David Cairns examines Harold Lloyd’s approach to gags in silent comedy and in The Kid Brother especially.
The Kid Brother: Close to Home – In this video essay, location historian/author John Bengtson discusses the Los Angeles locations used in the filming of The Kid Brother, employing historical research and geographic features to identify specific details.
Greenacres – In this 2005 featurette, Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd, provides a tour of his estate, Greenacres. Lloyd bought the land as a financial investment. Ground was broken for it during the filming of The Kid Brother. It took 2 1/2 years to complete. Children’s parties at the estate included guests Shirley Temple, Jane Withers, and Roddy McDowall. The estate has a golf course, a stream with a water wheel, fountains, courtyards, ballrooms, a spiral staircase, and manicured gardens. Lloyd’s daughter was married at the estate in 1950.
Harold Lloyd Interview – Broadcast on December 14, 1962 on Dutch public television, this interview is the best of the bonus materials. The questions are spoken in Dutch (with English subtitles). Lloyd responds in English. He discusses his early Lonesome Luke character and the evolution of his “glasses character,” whose comedy was based on situations. He speaks about owning his own films and the then-current compilation feature Harold Lloyd’s World of Comedy. He says basic-style comedy has a timeless quality.
Over the Fence (1917) – In this first film featuring Lloyd’s glasses character, Snitch steals Ginger’s baseball tickets and takes Ginger’s girl to the game. Finding himself without tickets, Ginger dresses up as a baseball player and wins the game. The short film has a new Wurlitzer theater pipe organ score.
That’s Him (1918) – Newlywed hero is about to embark on his honeymoon when he realizes that he has lost the train tickets. As he tries to find them, his bride is led to believe that she’s been deserted. Musical accompaniment is a Wurlitzer theater pipe organ score.
Booklet – The accordion-style booklet contains an essay by critic Carrie Rickey and 6 black-and-white photos from The Kid Brother.
– Dennis Seuling