The thrilling comedy of Harold Lloyd.
Never Weaken is a Harold Lloyd short that I have fond memories of watching with my brothers as a child on Sunday mornings back in the 1970’s. They used to show edited versions of his movies with an added voice-over narration where a man with a comic voice referred to Harold as “Our Hero”. Lloyd was always so optimistic and bubbling over with enthusiasm, unlike the more poignant Chaplin and the often downright morose Keaton.
In this short Harold’s girl is told that she is being let go from her job as a doctor’s receptionist because of a lack of patients. Harold sets out to save the day by drumming up business. His girl explains her faith in Harold thusly, “He can do anything he tries, why he even learned the names of all the vice presidents”.
Harold, along with an acrobat friend “he spent 10 years on his head with Barnum & Bailey” go out on the street with a plan. The tumbler fakes a fall, Harold acts like he is “healing” him and then Harold passes out business cards for his sweeties’ doctor’s office. After several different attempts Harold manages to bring enough patients in to save his girlfriend’s job.
But alas, just when things are looking up, Harold overhears his girl telling another man that she would be proud to have him marry her. Harold becomes despondent and decides to kill himself, not realizing that the man is her brother, a recently ordained minister. After several failed suicide attempts Harold suddenly finds himself dangling high above the street when a steel beam mistakenly swings through the window and slips under the chair Harold is sitting on.
The final 8 minutes of this 2-reeler is Harold balancing up on the steel girders of a skyscraper under construction. Although it was revealed after his death that Lloyd used a stunt double (Harvey Parry) for some of the most dangerous bits, Lloyd was nonetheless a rather amazing acrobat, especially considering he had lost his right thumb and forefinger in an accidental prop bomb explosion in 1919.
Never Weaken is a quintessential Harold Lloyd short, therefore it features laughs and thrills galore.
My favorite moment in Never Weaken
The final 8 minutes of this 2-reeler with Harold Lloyd balancing up on the steel girders of a skyscraper under construction is the best part of this half hour film. Much of the rest could have been trimmed. Lloyd's weakness in film making became clear at this point in his career. His film's plots seemed more and more about getting to a gimmick than actually constructing a story. Granted the gimmick of him on the girders is some of his best work, but it still does not make up for the thin plot.
I disagree with Patrick, I do not think of Harold Lloyd as an amazing acrobat. That was Buster Keaton's forte. This movie in fact, makes the point that Harold Lloyd was not an acrobat. The part of the acrobatic man he works with to help drum up business could have been played by Buster Keaton, who was an acrobat in vaudeville before being discovered by Fatty Arbuckle.
I have seen many of Harold Lloyd's films but never really took notice of his gloves before. They are very obvious here in many scenes, especially near the end when he grabs the policeman's leg. You have to give this guy credit for pulling off his stunts so well with such a handicap.
Harold Lloyd in Never Weaken.
Lloyd may not have been the acrobat that Keaton was, but then who was? That doesn't mean that he wasn't an accomplished acrobat capable of throwing himself around and performing the most amazing stunts, because he was. It wasn't his main shtick, but he was definitely an acrobat.
Out of the nearly 300 films that Lloyd made, only 5 of them were what he called his, “thrill comedies”. They were the ones where he ended up on top of a tall building or a ledge of some kind. They're what he's most famous for, but to say that his films in general were about getting to a gimmick, seems a bit harsh.
Having said all that though, this isn't Lloyd's best film. Yes, like my brothers said, the final 8 minutes where he's on the girders, is thrilling. Everything that comes before it though, is fairly run of the mill stuff. The plot feels repetitive. Just a year earlier Lloyd had made another thrill comedy called High and Dizzy about a doctor who doesn't have any patients, which ends with Lloyd out on the ledge of a tall building. In this film, there's a doctor, although not Lloyd this time, who doesn't have any patients, which ends with Lloyd on a tall building. Both films featured Lloyd's future wife, Mildred Davies.
Eric mentioned that Lloyd's gloves are noticeable in this short and they are quite prominent. In fact, in the closeup of his hand while he's holding the doctor's business card, you can see that he's wearing the gloves, but when the camera cuts to a wide shot of him, the gloves have mysteriously disappeared. There are also a couple of times where if you watch his hands you can tell that he's wearing the prosthetic by the way the thumb and index finger never bend. He would become much more skilled at hiding his handicap in later films.
This is a mildly amusing little film of Lloyd's, but he made better shorts before it and his best work was yet to come, in the features.
Photos © Copyright Pathe Exchange (1921)