US Release Date: 03-27-1921
Directed by: Fred C. Newmeyer, Hal Roach
- Harold Lloyd, as
- The Boy
- Mildred Davis, as
- The Girl
- Anna Mae Bilson as
- The Lonesome Little Child
Harold after crashing into the side of a barn.
Now or Never borrows its opening scene from Mary Pickford’s Poor Little Rich Girl. A wealthy but neglected young girl - her father is always away on business and her mother is busy partying - gets a bedtime story from the maid.
She tells the little girl about her childhood sweetheart (we see a young boy with glasses) who is supposed to be coming back for her on her 18th birthday. She is returning to her home town the next day in the hopes of seeing him. The little girl convinces the maid to take her along since she won't be missed anyway.
Cut to Harold speeding through the countryside in a hot rod roadster. He eventually crashes into a barn and emerges on the other side covered in hay with a duck in his car. He gives money for the damages to a man that turns out to be a hobo. The real farmer chases Harold off with a shotgun.
Harold spots the hobo riding the rails on a train. Harold jumps on, then demands his money while he and the hobo hold on for dear life beneath the speeding train. It is a quintessential moment of silent comedy thrills.
Harold happens upon the maid and the little girl at a train station. As it turns out they were riding on the very same train. The maid spots her boss also getting on the train. She tells Harold that he must take the child, Dolly, to his berth and wait for her. She will explain everything later.
The train begins to leave and Harold and Dolly manage to get onboard. They momentarily reunite with the maid before she is off seeking her boss. The remainder of the movie takes place on the train, culminating with – you guessed it – a chase. Harold winds up on top of the train once again clinging for dear life.
There are several funny gags involving the sleeping berths. A comedy set on a train in the 1920’s that uses sleeping berths for laughs? I have a feeling Billy Wilder watched this movie. The set looks similar to the one in Some Like it Hot and Harold even pulls the emergency brake cord in one of the movie’s cutest and most original bits.
Silent movie titles could be quite amusing. Harold Lloyd had particularly clever writers. Here’s a sample. Two drunks are riding on the train. One asks the other for the time. The other one looks at his watch and then replies, “Tuesday.”
Now or Never runs 40 minutes or about 3 reels. This was not uncommon for a movie during the silent era. It’s longer than most shorts but not quite feature length. Like virtually all of Lloyd’s movies the story is slight but the laughs are plentiful. The one thing that puzzles me is the title. Now or Never?
Harold Lloyd riding the rails in Now or Never
I have watched many Harold Lloyd films recently and although I certainly enjoy Lloyd's films, I am starting to see why he has never been considered the artist that Chaplin and Keaton were. Lloyd's film are quick enough paced and as Patrick wrote, there are laughs to be had here, but they too often lacked a plot.
The problem for me is that his films too often are just sitcoms with an occasional sight gag. In Now or Never we have Harold in a series of situations, from riding on the bottom or top of the train to trying to fetch some water for the little girl. Each is a nice enough comic bit but as this is a longer film than his shorts, I expected there to be some story arc.
The real problem is that although I smile at Lloyd's actions I care not for him. Nothing in the plot creates any sympathy for the glasses character. He races recklessly and crashes his car. He deserved that. He illegally rides on the train. He deserves to get harassed. The fact that he and the nanny are supposed to end up together is almost pointless as they share very few scenes and no emotion.
In that lies the problem. I wanted Buster Keaton to get that house built in One Week (1920). I wanted Chaplin to rescue Edna Purviance in Easy Street (1917). I do not know what Harold's goal even is here. It all just seems like a bunch of comic ideas made into a very thin plot. Chaplin and Keaton played characters that were striving for something while Lloyd too often just seemed to react to what was going on around him.
This is not indicative of all of Lloyds movies, but he did have a habit of milking a joke a bit too long. The best example here is when he tries to get the girl a cup of water. His films would improve immensely when he started making actual feature length movies such as Safety Last (1923), The Freshman (1925) and The Kid Brother (1927). Perhaps this film was Harold struggling a bit to transition to longer film.
Harold Lloyd clings to the side of a train in Now or Never.
Unlike Eric, I thoroughly enjoyed this mid-length Harold Lloyd short. Harold shows his usual charm and physical derring-do. It's a fast paced delight from start to finish.
Sure, the plot is rather thin, but so was the plot of most shorts, even Keaton's and Chaplin's. There is a clear goal though. Harold wants to get the girl and he doesn't want her to know that he lost all of his money. To that end, he must stay on the train and take care of the little girl at the same time. I definitely wanted him to succeed.
I do agree with Eric that there is never really any chemistry between Lloyd and Davis, simply because they barely share any screentime together. Offscreen however, was a different story as Davis would soon become Mrs. Harold Lloyd. It's with Harold's other co-star that he really shines. He and Anna Mae Bilson, as the lonesome little girl, are terrific together. As he did in From Hand to Mouth, Lloyd shows that he had a charming way with children.
While Lloyd is most famous for climbing around on the side of skyscrapers, it's a train that gets the thrill treatment this time. Patrick mentioned the scene under the train, but Lloyd ends up inside, outside and topside throughout the short. As usual, Lloyd makes it all look so simple and smooth. He was an acrobat, an actor and a stuntman, all rolled into one.
Eric says Lloyd was struggling when he made this film. I'm struggling to figure out how Eric could have given such an enjoyable little film, just 2 stars.
Photos © Copyright Pathe Exchange (1921)