Never Weaken (1921)
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Where Keaton had his dour expression and acrobatics and Chaplin had the pathos and funny walk of the tramp Lloyd is best remembered for his effervescence and his stunts. The stunts are never better represented than here which sees a protracted, thrilling and funny scene when Harold finds himself stranded on the beams of a building under construction. One gag in this sequence involving a ladder is as good as they come but the whole sequence is a delight.
It might surprise people that a key theme here involves attempted suicide, something Keaton often tackled, but is less associated with the happy-go-lucky Lloyd, but it was something he visited on multiple occasions. Perfectly demonstrating what a fine line exists between comedy and tragedy this scene here explores the banalities that intrude and the difficulties of going through with such an act that when dwelt on are extremely astute but while watched are hilarious. The suicidal scenes of Haunted Spooks have bigger, and funnier gags and this is one extended scene here instead of a series of vignettes but still inspired as Harold figures out how to do it, dismissing various ways for funny, but oddly real reasons. The sequence is at it's best though when he delays the act because he gets caught up in the triviality of a miss-spelling in his suicide note! Lloyd regular (and later his wife) Mildred Davis again appears as the love interest, though has little to do here compared to some.
The film is intriguingly split into three distinct segments, the slapstick laughs of the first section where Harold is trying to get patients for the doctor Mildred works for so she won't be fired; the smart wit of the suicidal second section; and then the thrilling stunts of the final section. Whichever part of Lloyd's art you like best Never Weaken can offer it to you, however as a whole it does feel a little like 3 10 minute shorts playing one after the other.
Typically the title cards remain the most inspired and beautiful of any US silent comedian.
Well worth catching. If you don't know Lloyd you couldn't get a better introduction to his talents.
I've not seen enough Harold Lloyd to say whether or not I'm a massive fan but I have certainly never had any great desire to hunt his films down in the same way as I have with Laurel and Hardy (whom I generally adore). However with BBC4's consistently impressive Silent Clown's series of documentaries, I got a rare opportunity to see one of his shorts as selected by Paul Merton. The overly jaunty new score played over the film was a bit of a pain because although it fitted the action on screen, I didn't think it worked for the period the film came from. Regardless I got into the mild humour of Lloyd drumming up injuries on the streets as the film got going until it reached the high (sorry) point of the skyscraper conclusion. This section is pretty much the whole show as it demonstrates his daredevil sense of humour.
Sure he isn't actually 50 stories above the ground but the stunts are still very impressive let me assure you. His timing is good and although I didn't find this hilarious, he is impressive in how he plays the audience for laughs and gasps at the same time. The support cast all play to form but this is all about Lloyd and, considering I'm not a real fan, I did think he was well worth seeing.
Overall an impressive and amusing silent short film. Not as out and out funny as I would have hoped but the skyscraper scrapes are well worth seeing and make the second part of the film much stronger than the rather genial first half.
The story has two main sequences, both of which do very well in getting a lot of mileage out of an offbeat idea. The first part has Lloyd using his imagination to drum up business for an osteopath. This sequence has some funny gags, and it also benefits from Lloyd's ability to make a somewhat unscrupulous character seem nevertheless well-meaning and sympathetic.
The second part nicely combines humor and suspense, as Lloyd ends up in a lengthy series of predicaments high in the air. It's very well-crafted, making use of Lloyd's athleticism plus some creative ideas with the props and the setting. It's probably among the most memorable scenes in any of Lloyd's movies. (It's also interesting to note how many of his finest sequences have to do with heights.)
It's fun to watch, and in addition it's quite a display of talent. This is certainly one of the movies that any fan of Harold Lloyd's style of comedy would want to see.
The first portion consists of Harold trying to help his girlfriend keep her job as a receptionist for a chiropractor by, rather unscrupulously, drumming up business for them. Harold is a bit uncharacteristically cruel during these efforts, but I gotta admit they are still quite funny.
The second segment is also a bit uncharacteristic, as Harold mistakenly thinks his girl loves another so he tries repeatedly to kill himself. This is pretty maudlin and I felt just a tiny bit uneasy laughing at suicide.
However, it then transitioned from this into a live-action version of a Sweet Pea and Popeye cartoon. You know, the one where the baby climbs onto a high-rise under construction and nearly gets killed again and again and again. Harold Lloyd handles these stunts very deftly and the film ends when he is saved and he learns that his girl not only wants to marry him but the guy she was talking to earlier turned out to be her brother--the preacher! A cute film.
A lovesick young man must NEVER WEAKEN when he unexpectedly finds himself in a most precarious & dangerous situation.
Here is one of Harold Lloyd's thrill pictures, which offers quick-moving comedy and genuine suspense. The first half of the film has Harold trying to roundup patients for his girlfriend's boss. The second half puts Harold up on the framework of a building under construction - clutching, crawling & careening out over empty space. His obvious athletic ability is made even more remarkable by the fact that he was using only half of his right hand, his disfigurement, caused by a studio accident, hidden by a glove.
Pretty Mildred Davis, who would soon become Mrs. Harold Lloyd, plays the object of his affections.
I watched this shortly after watching another Lloyd short, "Haunted Spooks" (mostly because they come together on the same DVD), and it's very similar in premise to the first half of "Spooks." Lloyd plays a young man who thinks the love of his life is in love with someone else, and he decides to commit suicide. Of course, he's Harold Lloyd, so things don't go as planned, and he instead finds himself dangling above New York city from a construction site. These scenes are real nail biters, as one thing after another threatens to send him plummeting, and Lloyd showcases the dare-devilry that was so common to silent comedy actors from that time.
The storyline isn't much to speak of, and the film is really two movies combined as the first half has little bearing on the second. Harold mistakenly believes his beloved (the future Mrs Lloyd, looking a little like Drew Barrymore in some shots) has fallen for another man and unsuccessfully tries to commit extravagant suicide with a gun and a length of string just as a stray girder from the construction project outside his office lifts the chair on which he is sat out of his office and into mid-air. The scenes in which Lloyd is perched on the chair are teeth-grindingly difficult to watch at times, and your laughter is really an hysterical release of tension rather than amusement at what is taking place on screen. I'd love to have seen this in a cinema back in 1921 – the audience reactions must have been something to see, and would have made the viewing experience all the more enjoyable.
The sheer inventiveness is just dazzling. Apart from the spectacle of Harold, just one step away from a fall to oblivion, he is also blindfolded at first. He hears a child playing a harp and thinks he has gone to heaven, he lifts up his blindfold and sees a carved angel but then he hears a Dixieland jazz band and wonders where he is!!!
The first gag sequence is more conventional Lloyd as Harold tries to muster up patients for the doctor next door whose business is going so badly he has to let Harold's girl (Mildred Davis), who is his receptionist, go. Harold finds an acrobat who he gets to do pratfalls in front of a group of elderly people, Harold steps in, gives him a chiropractic workout and hands out the doctor's cards when amazed people think he is actually cured. The fun starts when Harold mistakes a real accident for his friend (who has taken off).
This is just a superb comedy - one of Lloyd's earliest experiments in stunting and where would a Harold Lloyd comedy be without a marvelous score by Robert Israel!!
Desolate, he decides to think of quick ways to commit suicide, inspired by a newspaper headline that tells of two youths who killed themselves when they lost their sweethearts. His plans backfire, of course, but before you know it a construction boom has lifted his office chair out the window with him sitting on it, thinking he's been shot by a stunt he rigged up to have a gun go off when someone opened the door.
What ensues is the cleverest bit of physical comedy you can imagine, with Lloyd getting himself into sky high trouble when he makes an attempt to walk the construction beams which seem to be in a conspiracy against him. It's the funniest half of the short comedy--and one can see why he was so revered as a silent comedian.
The ultra busy soundtrack has a musical score (I saw this on TCM), but like many scores accompanying silent films, it's almost too much of a good thing. After awhile I dodged for the mute button.
Amazing to see what clever stunts he was capable of, even in his comedy shorts.
The film stars Lloyd as an office-worker, who plans to wed the beautiful Mildred (Mildred Davis), whom has been his girlfriend for a long time now. However, after hearing a man say to her "of course I will marry you," without any context, the man becomes distraught, emotionally upset, and decides to commit suicide by blindfolding himself and rigging a gun to fire when he pulls a string that is tied to the trigger. After an odd and nearly unexplainable series of events, with the bullet hitting the light next to him, the man finds himself high above the city, atop a construction site, all of a sudden struggling to hold on for dear life.
Never Weaken illustrates the age-old idea of a misunderstanding, which has been put to great effect in comedy films and, as we see, even the early days of silent filmmaking. Being brewed from the classic misrepresentation makes for cute innovation, for the time, as we find ourselves one step ahead of the character with each turn, right from the core misunderstanding in the very beginning. Throw in Lloyd's incredible facial acting and unbelievably talented physical comedy, and this is a conglomeration of true talent and innovation you can't help but cheer on through and through.
Starring: Harold Lloyd and Mildred Davis. Directed by: Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor.
*** (out of 4)
Another good Harold Lloyd short has him trying to injure people so that his girlfriend, who works in a hospital, won't lose her job due to lack of patients. There aren't too many laughs here but the thing remains entertaining throughout. The joke with the soapy street is clearly the highlight and the ending has Lloyd fumbling around on another skyscraper.
You can get this short from Kino or New Line. Both offer good video quality but the New Line set featurs a lot more shorts and features.
Copyright 28 September 1921 by Associated Exhibitors (Hal Roach). U.S. release through Pathé: 22 October 1921. 3 reels. 29 minutes.
SYNOPSIS: Three stories, somewhat thinly joined: (1) Young man tries to drum up business for a doctor when his receptionist is in danger of losing her job. (2) Young man tries to commit suicide when he wrongly thinks his sweetheart has jilted him. (3) Young man find himself precariously balanced on a girder at a construction site. NOTES: Third of Lloyd's dizzy height themed movies: The others: Look Out Below (1919), High and Dizzy (1920), Safety Last (1923), Feet First (1930), The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947).
COMMENT: Suicide has been used as a laugh-getter in a few film comedies, but generally it doesn't work unless it's clearly established right from the start that the perpetrator is such an inept clown, his efforts will have absolutely no chance of success. Unfortunately, Mr Lloyd does not meet this requirement, so the laughs here are at best rather uneasy. Some of the sequences also run too long. Fortunately, there are plenty of genuine thrills in store in the girder episodes, even though these were later well and truly upstaged in Safety Last and Feet First. And we must commend producer Hal Roach for casting acrobat Mark Jones in a decent part for once. (Heavily disguised, Jones later played the old witch in Grandma's Boy).
I read a trivia note on this film that stated Lloyd had a stunt double for the more difficult ones, but there sure were enough close-ups of Lloyd on the airborne I-beam to make it seem like he was doing them himself. The blindfold gimmick in the chair was pretty remarkable, and even though the chair was secure, Harold wasn't, so it looked pretty dangerous. The balance, coordination and timing of all the stunts on display are really something to see.
Of course, what led to all those dangerous maneuvers was Harold's conviction to commit suicide after a misguided impression that his girl (Mildred Davis) was marrying another man. Talk about a perfectionist, he had to figure out the correct spelling of 'sepulchre' before pursuing his task. That would appear to take the starch out of any man.
I haven't seen nearly as many Harold Lloyd shorts as other favorites like Laurel and Hardy, Chaplin or Keaton, but the few I've seen are beginning to make me a fan. This one was pretty good, but if you're afraid of heights you may need a tranquilizer.