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Creator / Harold Lloyd

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"My humor was never cruel or cynical. I just took life and poked fun at it. We made it so it could be understood the world over, without language barriers. We seem to have conquered the time barrier, too."
Harold Lloyd in 1970, shortly before his death

Harold Clayton Lloyd (April 20, 1893 – March 8, 1971) was an American comedian, actor, and filmmaker, and one of the biggest stars of The Silent Age of Hollywood. Along with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Lloyd dominated silent comedy in the 1920s, leading British film historian Kevin Brownlow to dub him the "Third Genius" of the genre.

Born in Nebraska, Lloyd moved with his father to San Diego after his parents' divorce, and started acting in high school. He made his film debut in 1913 and soon became partners with another up-and-comer, producer Hal Roach. Lloyd first achieved fame with "Lonesome Luke", a fairly obvious imitation of Chaplin's Tramp character that nevertheless proved popular. However, Lloyd grew more ambitious and created his own persona, the "glasses" character that would be a movie fixture for twenty years. The "glasses" character, unlike Chaplin's tragicomic outsider and Keaton's somewhat cynical stoic, was more of an everyman, a determined, go-getting all-American type who usually got both the girl and the happy ending.

In 1923, following the tremendous success of Safety Last!, (the one with the "clock dangling" scene that became Lloyd's Signature Scene) Lloyd left Hal Roach Studios and became his own boss during his period of greatest success, during which he produced more feature films than Chaplin or Keaton. Unlike those rivals, he never took credit as a writer or director of his films despite closely controlling all aspects of production. His films during these years became famous for thrilling, elaborate stuntwork and long chase sequences, all of which were performed by Lloyd himself. Even more impressively, he did this after losing the thumb and forefinger on his right hand when a prop bomb exploded too early.

Lloyd attempted to adapt the "glasses" character for talkies but met with gradually diminishing returns and was essentially retired by 1938. He held the copyright to most of his features and was reluctant to show them in revivals or on television, and consequently his reputation diminished over the decades in comparison with his contemporaries'. Some of Lloyd's features were released on VHS in the early 1990s, and a DVD collection of features and shorts was finally released in 2005. The Criterion Collection currently has the rights to Lloyd's films and is releasing them on DVD and Blu-ray.

Not to be confused with Harry Lloyd.

Lloyd films with their own TV Tropes pages:

His other movies provide examples of:

  • Alcohol Is Gasoline: Exaggerated. In Get Out & Get Under, Harold needs gas for his car when he sees a man shoot heroin in the corner. Striking an idea, Harold steals the needle and pours the drug into the car's tank. It not only starts the engine, but suddenly causes the car to speed off by itself, sending Harold on a wild out of control ride.
  • All Just a Dream / But You Were There, and You, and You: In Captain Kidd's Kids, Lloyd goes on a cruise after his girlfriend's pushy mother has forbidden marriage. He falls off the cruise boat and is picked up by a band of lady pirates, including his girlfriend as a particularly fetching pirate and her battleaxe mother as the pirate captain. The Reveal is that it was all a dream.
  • Banana Peel: The Flirt (1917).
  • Captain Ersatz: Lonesome Luke.
  • Clark Kenting: Lloyd found that his prop glasses hid his identity so well that typically no one recognized him when he took them off.
    • Apparently he was the Trope Codifier for this one — Siegel and Schuster used this trait of his as a model for Clark Kent's being able to pass as different from Kal-L.
  • Cobweb of Disuse: On the office telephone in High and Dizzy, demonstrating that young doctor Harold's medical practice is not prospering.
  • Deus ex Machina: In Bumping Into Broadway (the first Glasses Character short), Harold is a young aspiring playwright trying to sell his script for a musical comedy. Bebe Daniels is the actress in the room next to him; they are both late on their rent and facing eviction. Are their problems solved when Harold sells his play? No, they're solved by Harold hitting on #13 three times in a row when playing roulette at an illegal casino.
  • Did Not Get the Girl:
    • A rare example in The Big Idea, see Twist Ending below.
    • Actually not too uncommon during the Bebe Daniels era (1915-1919). Even rarer in the Mildred Davis era (1919-1923); Number, Please? is the only one of the 15 Harold/Mildred films where the former loses the latter (when the purse he's spent the whole movie trying to bring back to the girl is eaten by a goat).
  • Dodgy Toupee: Harold is riding in a roller coaster in Number, Please? when another passenger's toupee flies off and hits Harold (in the last car) in the face.
  • Endearingly Dorky: His "Glasses" character was probably one of the earliest examples. This is actually a pretty good illustration of the effect of the glasses. Without the glasses, he wasn't "adorkable", he was just a very handsome man.
  • Fake-Out Opening: Many of his films start with a misleading opening as a gag.
  • Fun with Subtitles: To a far greater extent than Keaton or Chaplin, Lloyd used the title cards for gags.
    • To the point that's it's almost overwritten, like Woody Allen (who was clearly influenced by Lloyd).
  • Go-Getter: Usually played this type of character or Idle Rich.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: In An Eastern Westerner, the heroine whacks a beer bottle over the bad guy's head. It shatters, but he has no lasting ill effects.
  • Handicapped Badass: He pulled off a ton of incredible stunts while missing a thumb and index finger.
  • Hangover Sensitivity: In Captain Kidd's Kids, Harold wakes up after a wild bachelor party, and puts an enormous block of ice on his head.
  • Happy Ending: Almost all of them.
  • Hong Kong Dub: Welcome Danger was already finished as a silent film when Lloyd decided to ride the talkie wave and remake it as a sound film. Some of the material was re-shot with synchronized sound, but other scenes featured dialogue and sound effects dubbed onto silent footage. The dubbing is egregiously bad.
  • Iconic Outfit: The horn-rimmed glasses, to the point where Lloyd could walk around unrecognized when he wasn't wearing them (they were strictly a prop, he didn't need them to see; they also had no lenses, as the glass would have reflected the stage lighting).
    • Usually, though not always, accompanied by a straw hat.
    • When he finally needed to replace the old frames, he wrote to the manufacturer, who sent him 20 pairs for free, as he was their best advertisement.
  • King Incognito: Mildred Davis's princess character in His Royal Slyness likes to dress like a peasant and leave the castle to see how the people live. That's how she meets Harold.
  • Love at First Sight: Happened with Lloyd and his female co-star on a regular basis. In High and Dizzy he asks Mildred Davis's character if she believes in love at first sight.
  • The Magic Poker Equation: Played with in An Eastern Westerner. Harold sits down to play poker and naturally is dealt a full house in true Magic Poker Equation style. However, this is subverted when the guy sitting next to him is dealt a pair of twos—and surreptitiously switches out his hand for Harold's.
  • Meet Cute: In Take a Chance, Bebe Daniels is mopping up a porch and the sidewalk in front of it when Harold slips and falls on said sidewalk.
  • Mirror Routine: The Marathon (1919), after Harold shattered the mirror. His brother Gaylord Lloyd played his lookalike in the film.
  • Nitro Boost: In the short Get Out and Get Under, Lloyd gives his car cocaine to make it go faster. As in, he literally snatches a needle from a junkie and then injects the contents into his engine.
  • No Name Given: When his characters weren't called "Harold", they were usually called "The Boy".
  • Not-So-Fake Prop Weapon: Real Life. In 1919 Lloyd was posing for photographs with a prop bomb. Unfortunately the not-prop bomb exploded, blowing off the thumb and first two fingers of his right hand. For the rest of his career, including all of the intricate action sequences that were such a hallmark of his 1920s films, Lloyd performed while wearing a specially-made glove designed to hide his injury.
  • On One Condition: In 1917 short Bashful, Harold inherits $2 million from a deceased aunt, but only if he has a wife and baby. His girlfriend agrees to pretend to be the wife, but the search for an infant to be their fake baby leads to a lot of comic business.
  • Racial Face Blindness: In The Cat's-Paw, Lloyd's character Ezekiel Cobb, who grew up in China as the son of a missionary, observes that white girls all look alike.
  • Real Vehicle Reveal: In one Harold Lloyd film, Harold is seen relaxing in the back of a rather luxurious car. Then he shifts position, the car pulls away, and it's revealed he's riding a bicycle.
  • Reveal Shot: Harold Lloyd loved using this for gags and did it many times.
  • Romance on the Set: After appearing as Lloyd's Love Interest in fifteen films, Mildred Davis married him in 1923, whereupon she retired from the screen (save for one more role in the 1927 non-Lloyd comedy Too Many Crooks). They remained Happily Married until her 1969 death.
  • Ruritania: "Thermosa" in His Royal Slyness (Harold impersonates the Prince of Razzmatazz; his rival is the Prince of Roquefort).
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: In An Eastern Westerner the bad guy takes the heroine's father prisoner and demands that she marry him. Harold intercedes and rescues them before the girl has to make a hard choice.
  • Sequel: After several years in retirement Lloyd attempted a comeback with The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, a 1947 sequel to The Freshman. For this movie he teamed with one of the greatest comedy directors of The '40s, Preston Sturges, the maker of razor-sharp satires like Sullivan's Travels and The Lady Eve. It was a disaster; Lloyd retired from filmmaking for good, and Sturges's career never recovered.
  • Shout-Out: The scene in An Eastern Westerner where a gang of riders on horseback wearing white hoods charge into town is strongly reminiscent of the Klan on horseback in The Birth of a Nation. Happily, in this film the riders in white hoods are the bad guys.
  • Thief Bag: See Twist Ending below.
  • Twist Ending: In The Big Idea (1917), one of his earlier Glasses Character shorts, Lloyd's girlfriend works at an antique shop. She faces losing her job when her boss says he's going to close for lack of business. Harold elects to go on a Viral Marketing campaign in which he goes around town spreading the rumor that there's $10,000 hidden in one of the artifacts at the antique shop. After the store has been cleaned out, the last customer buys the last item, a vase, breaks it open—and finds a sack marked "$10,000". Harold's girl goes away with the customer.
  • Vice President Who?: His Royal Slyness ends with Harold, who earlier was impersonating a prince, accidentally start a revolution and get made president (It Makes Sense in Context). Harold has fallen in love with the princess. When he tells her "I'm only a president now" she says "I'd love you if you were only a Vice-President."
  • Wag the Director: Lloyd was in charge of his movies. Of course, since many of them went down as classics, this is an unusually happy example of this trope.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: In The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, Harold, who's been fired from his job, hits on a longshot racehorse, and then goes on a spree of drinking and debauchery. Much of the second half of the film involves Harold finding out all the crazy stuff he did over a drunken Wednesday, including buying a coach and driver, buying a circus, and getting married.

Harold Lloyd Shout Outs in fiction:

  • The main character in the animated Atlantis: The Lost Empire was a mix between Harold Lloyd and Jimmy Stewart.
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold: In the episode "Emperor Joker!", one of the Joker's mooks is a huge, muscular version of Lloyd, with a prosthetic hand (he tries to punch Batman with it. Blink and you might not realize it's prosthetic).
  • Futurama: Zoidberg's uncle Harold Zoid (voiced by Hank Azaria), a former silent film star, is a reference to Lloyd. Also in one episode there's a scene with Fry dangling from a digital clock (the numbers being apparently physical 3-D objects).
  • Martin Scorsese's Hugo includes the famous Safety Last scene pictured above, and in a later scene Hugo dangles from a clock.
  • Jackie Chan also copied the clock scene from Safety Last in Project A, as well as scenes from Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr. and Steamboat Bill, Jr. and Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times. Compare the scenes here.
  • The plot of the film Cats Don't Dance borrows heavily from Harold Lloyd's 1932 talkie Movie Crazy.
  • Back to the Future: The climax with Doc Brown hanging from the Hill Valley clock tower. At the beginning of the movie, one of Doc's clocks is a Safety Last clock, with a Harold Lloyd silhouette hanging from the hands.
  • The Powerpuff Girls: In the episode "Silent Treatment" the girls get sucked into a silent movie and quickly pass by Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin.
  • The opening credits for On Her Majesty's Secret Service uses time-themed graphic elements, including an hourglass and someone hanging from a giant clock hand, Lloyd-style (which anticipates a scene with Bond trapped in a cable car machine room).
  • Will Smith's cop character in I, Robot mentions that the name of the driver that was killed in the same accident that left his daughter Sarah and the cop slowly drowning as they were trapped in their cars underwater was "named Harold Lloyd. Like the film star, but no relation." Notable since the film is supposed to take place in 2035, showing how people still remembered his career even over a hundred years after some of the films were made.
  • Dumb and Dumber: The protagonists are Harry Dunne and Lloyd Christmas, named after Harold Lloyd.