US Release Date: 04-04-1947
Directed by: Preston Sturges
- Harold Lloyd, as
- Harold Diddlebock
- Jimmy Conlin, as
- Raymond Walburn, as
- E.J. Waggleberry
- Rudy Vallee, as
- Lynn Sargent
- Edgar Kennedy, as
- Frances Ramsden, as
- Frances Otis
- Arline Judge, as
- Franklin Pangborn, as
- Formfit Franklin
- Lionel Stander, as
- Margaret Hamilton as
Harold Lloyd gets a makeover in The Sin of Harold Diddlebock.
When Preston Sturges parted ways with Paramount Pictures, he teamed up with eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes to form California Pictures. One of the first things Sturges did at the newly formed studio was to lure one of his idols, silent film star Harold Lloyd, out of retirement. Together they made a sequel to one of Lloyd's most successful features, The Freshman. Unfortunately, what started as a pleasant collaboration turned into an acrimonious split between Sturges, Lloyd and Hughes over creative differences and the result is an uneven film with only moments of brilliance inside a mediocre mess.
The movie opens with the climatic football game from The Freshman with sound effects added. Immediately following the game, Harold is carried off the field by teammates and into the shower where an excited fan gives Harold his business card, telling him to come see him about a job after he graduates. Although some 20 years later and Lloyd now in his fifties, he manages to convincingly play himself at that young age in this scene.
After landing the offered job as a lowly book keeper in an advertising firm, some 20 years pass and Harold is still working in the same position. His boss, that fan from all those years ago, calls him into his office and fires him for being too old and too much in a rut. Harold takes his life savings and goes on a drunken bender. When he wakes up, he discovers that while drunk he became the owner of a down on its luck circus. To finance it, he takes one of the lions for a walk on Wall street to try to drum up some interest. Almost inevitably, since this is a Harold Lloyd film, the lion ends up on the ledge of a building many stories up in the air and Harold must go out after him.
The Freshman was such a feel good, gung-ho, good guy triumphs type of story that to see that same character as a disappointed middle-aged clerk going through a mid-life crisis, is a bit of a depressing way to start a sequel. The first really humorous scene, following the scenes lifted from The Freshman comes when following his firing, Harold has a talk with Francis, a girl he works with, and confesses that he loves her, just as he'd loved all 5 of her older sisters who had worked at the agency before her. "Of course I was so in the habit of being in love with your mother's daughters by then that it would be impossible for me to even see one without..."
It isn't until Lloyd has his first drink at the bar that the movie really gets going and approaches the level of screwball comedy. The bartender, upon learning that Harold has never had a drink before, takes it as a serious responsibility to create the perfect first drink for him to try, quizzing him on where he was born, whether or not he likes ice skating or Turkish baths and what type of toothpaste he uses, to get an idea of his personality. The resulting drink sends Harold over the edge and out of his shell.
When Lloyd wakes up with a hangover, the movie loses its way again. The scene on the ledge, while reminiscent of Lloyd's earlier work, isn't very funny. The jokes aren't helped by the fact that the lion looks to be uncomfortable and possibly in distress.
Reportedly Lloyd and Sturges argued over creative control during the making of the movie, but Hughes took control following the movie's release. After a short run, he pulled it from theaters, did some reshoots and drastically edited it, rereleasing it in 1951 under the new title Mad Wednesday. Lloyd hated the new version so much that he sued Hughes for damages to his reputation "as an outstanding motion picture star and personality", eventually accepting a $30,000 settlement.
The combination of Lloyd and Sturges should have resulted in something great. Instead it ended up as just a tantalizing glimpse of what could have been. The finished film is really only of interest to fans of Lloyd.
If only the film were this cute.
After the first scenes in college and once mentioning later that he went to college, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock has nothing to do with The Freshman. It has far more in common with The Hangover. Harold gets drunk and loses an entire day. He then discovers what he did while inebriated and has to deal with it. As The Hangover proved, such a plot can be hysterical. Unfortunately, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock is not.
As Scott wrote, it does not even seem to be a comedy until Harold goes to the bar, and that is not until the 30 minute mark. This is a crime when you consider that a Harold Lloyd silent short would have contained several jokes and been over at 20 minutes. The best moments early on are more cute than funny. When Harold first meets Wormy he says such phrases as, "A fool and his money are soon parted." and "He who lendeth money, endeth friendship."
The Sin of Harold Diddlebock feels desperate for a joke when Harold ends up on the fire escape and the ledge. The scene is the climax of the movie, but at no point does it at all seem like they are actually on the side of a building. There is no wind and the background is clearly a separate film. Lloyd's famous scene from Safety Last made in 1923, looks far more authentic, as he filmed it outdoors.
The film's funniest bit comes near the end when all the bankers shove offers in front of Harold's face. He becomes overwhelmed and needs another drink. The movie then gives us a five minute build up to a decent ending joke. It is not enough however, to make us forgive all that has come before. Harold Lloyd certainly deserved better than this.
Harold Lloyd trying unsuccessfully to recapture the magic of Safety Last in The Sin of Harold Diddlebock.
I agree Eric, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock is quite a disappointing swan song to Harold Lloyd’s illustrious career. The main thing missing from it are Lloyd’s trademark clever sight gags. He seems unsure of himself relying on the heavily verbal comedy of Preston Sturges and, as my brothers mentioned, the scenes near the end that rely on slapstick serve only to remind audiences just how long ago Harold’s heyday was.
The script has a few mildly amusing moments courtesy of the celebrated writer/director. The scene at the bar is a quintessential Sturges moment and one of the funniest bits in the movie. Although to be honest - like nearly every scene in this movie - it drags on too long. I did enjoy Harold’s incredulous reaction upon first discovering the consequences of his night of Bacchanalia.
The supporting cast is filled with Sturges regulars like Jimmy Conlin (Harold’s advice giving sidekick Wormy), Raymond Walburn (Harold’s unsympathetic boss), Franklin Pangborn (Harold’s effeminate tailor) and former singing heartthrob Rudy Vallee as a banker. Also popping up in small roles, look for the Wicked Witch of the West herself, Margaret Hamilton (Harold’s shrewish landlady) and Lionel Stander (Harold’s bookie). He would become famous in the 1980s on the television show Hart to Hart.
I knew The Sin of Harold Diddlebock was in trouble when it opened with eight full minutes of recycled footage from The Freshman. The manner in which the passage of time is shown with the presidents on the calendar is mildly clever but I agree with Eric that the scenes of Harold at work are sloooow and not at all funny.
With the involvement of three such legendary Hollywood figures as Harold Lloyd, Preston Sturges and Howard Hughes you would rightfully expect a funnier movie. What a shame and a wasted opportunity.
Photos © Copyright United Artists (1947)