US Release Date: 12-26-1920
Directed by: Fred C. Newmeyer, Hal Roach
- Harold Lloyd, as
- The Boy
- Mildred Davis, as
- The Girl
- Roy Brooks, as
- The Rival
- Hal Roach as
Harold Lloyd in Number, Please.
Number, Please?, starring Harold Lloyd, is a history lesson with lots of comedic flair. The telephone was still considered quite a new invention in 1920 when this movie was made. Harold Lloyd milks the, then, new technology for lots of laughs.
Lloyd's ever unassuming gentleman character is competing for the affections of a Mary Pickford lookalike. While at an amusement park Lloyd or his rival may take the girl up in a balloon if they can first get the girl's mother's permission. The rival drives off like mad in his car to find the mother. Lloyd heads for the nearest telephone booths. Booths that are always full. Phone operators who are too busy gossiping to do their job. Lloyd's character does a hilarious, frustrated, slow burn that even after 80 years you can still laugh at as well as relate to.
This movie is a stereotypical classic silent film comedy. Lloyd plays the everyday man who just can't get a break. There is the required silent film comedy chase scene. Lloyd is accidentally accused of being a pick pocket and some policemen and a dog chase him around for quite awhile.
The best thing about Lloyd is his way of making things just flow so well. A slight of hand or a mere gesture. His absurd situations come across so easily that you relate to this guy as if it is happening to you. As Patrick once wrote; 'He (Lloyd) was a master of the sight gag...' What I like about him is his undeniable charm. Keaton was the Great Stone Face and Chaplin the Tramp. Lloyd was just a normal guy who found himself in funny situations.
Watch Number, Please? for a look at our history of the telephone. More importantly, watch Number, Please? for a look at a truly funny comedian. A comedian who's humor transcends time.
Harold Lloyd and Mildred Davis in Number, Please.
As I've said before I've always found Harold Lloyd to be funnier than either Keaton or Chaplin. Perhaps because he was less of an 'artiste' and instead was simply about making people laugh. Chaplin and Keaton are pathos and poetry compared to Lloyd's more frantic pacing. As a child you will laugh hardest at Lloyd's fast paced sight gags and then as you grow up you learn to appreciate the subtler, more complex shadings of Keaton and Chaplin. This explains why critics have never elevated Harold Lloyd to the exulted status enjoyed by The Little Tramp and The Great Stone Face.
The opening to Number, Please? is typical of Lloyd. In a quick series of shots we are shown the different ways that men try to forget the 'one great love that got away'. One man escaped to the sea, one became an adventurer, one gambled and one became a thrilling daredevil. Cut to Harold on a roller coaster.
As Eric said, the story then becomes a race between Harold and his competition for the pretty girls affections. While the other guy races off in an automobile to get the girl's mother's permission, the modern, quick thinking Harold decides to simply call her on the phone. Simple right? Not in a Harold Lloyd movie. The exact timing that was necessary to pull off the phone booth scenes is quite amazing. Everything had to be choreographed down to the split second. A girl emerges from one phone booth and inadvertently gets in Harold's way, just when it seems he is about to make it another person suddenly appears and takes his place. This goes on for several minutes with a different variation of the gag each time.
I can't disagree with Eric at all. Harold Lloyd is a masterful comic whose sense of humor and impeccable timing hold up well all these decades later.
Harold Lloyd in Number, Please?
Like you Eric one of the things I enjoyed about this short is how it's not only funny, but how it also works as a time capsule of 1920. The telephone is just the most prominent example, but the entire film is a showcase for the era. Perhaps the greatest thing it demonstrates though is that while the technology has changed, people are still basically the same.
One thing that is different in the story from now is the way the dog is treated. No filmmaker today would dare to tie a dog to a carousal and then turn it on. PETA and every other animal rights group in the world would be all over it. Partly because of this I found it to be one of the funniest gags in the film.
I agree with both of you in your opinion of Lloyd. He was an underestimated comic genius who made his humor seem so simple with his relatable persona. As a kid I found him funnier than Chaplin and Keaton, and to be honest I still do. I can appreciate Chaplin more now than I did but for sheer laughs, Lloyd's films supply more.
Like you Patrick I admired Lloyd's timing here, not only in the phone booth scene, but later with the purse as it gets passed back and forth between he and his rival.
Fast paced and funny, Lloyd's films hold up remarkably well. Not only funny, but they should be used in history classes today as a way of showing what life was like in the 1920s.
Photos © Copyright Harold Lloyd (1920)