Criterion Collection has released its fourth entry in a group of Harold Lloyd
silent classics, titles considered to be his very best work—and The Kid Brother could very well be at
the top of the heap as the definitive Lloyd feature film. While Safety Last! (1923) contains the iconic
sequence of Lloyd ascending a skyscraper and hanging on to the arm of a giant
clock, there is much to be said about The
Kid Brother’s storytelling, the depth of its characters, and Lloyd’s
ability to make us laugh at peril. This time, instead of great heights or
speeding cars, the threat comes from villains who want nothing more than to
break poor Harold’s neck.
setting is a rural town at the cusp of the changeover between “western times”
and the modern age. Cars exist, but most people are still riding horses. Sheriff
Hickory is a masculine and hearty leader in the town, and he has two strapping,
tough sons who help him in all endeavors. And then there is Harold, his
youngest, who is the more “sensitive,” one, the guy who wears glasses (the trademark
Harold Lloyd “Glasses” character). The boys’ mother is no longer on the scene,
so Dad and the two eldest sons do most of the “manly” stuff, while it’s up to
Harold to be the Mom (laundry, cooking, etc.).
a traveling medicine show on a wagon, the star of which is the dancer, Mary
(Jobyna Ralston). Harold and Mary become smitten with each other, but there are
several forces out to prevent the couple from being together. First, the
strongman (a superb bad guy played by Constantine Romanoff) and the show’s
proprietor have some dastardly plans that will affect the whole town. Secondly,
Harold’s childhood nemesis, the town bully, is constantly a thorn in his side.
Finally, our protagonist’s own family is a roadblock, as Harold strives to not
only defeat the odds against him but also prove to his father that he is as
good a son as his brothers.
short, Harold the Milquetoast must become Harold the Hero. How he does this forms
an extremely satisfying silent movie experience full of inventive sight gags,
colorful characters, and a suspenseful climax involving the ingenious
cat-and-mouse battle with the strongman aboard a derelict freighter.
new 4K digital restoration looks amazing; it’s as if the 92-year-old picture
had been shot recently. There are two musical scores from which to choose while
viewing—a 1989 orchestral score by Carl Davis, or an alternate Wurlitzer organ
score performed by Gaylord Carter that approximates the type of accompaniment
that would have been done in 1927. (One can easily toggle between the scores
with your remote’s audio button in order to choose the one you like best!)
There is also an optional audio commentary from 2005 featuring filmmaker and
Lloyd archivist Richard Correll, film historian Annette D’Agostino Lloyd (no
relation), and Lloyd’s granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd.
The Kid Brother release contains many
more supplements than did Criterion’s other Lloyd titles. The highlight is the
new conversation between Suzanne Lloyd and author Cari Beauchamp about Lloyd’s
three main leading ladies—Bebe Daniels, Mildred Davis (who became Lloyd’s wife,
Suzanne’s grandmother), and Jobyna Ralston. A new video essay examines the
“Anatomy of a Gag” by focusing on the sequence aboard the derelict fighter, and
especially spotlighting the talented little monkey, Josephine, who has the
distinction of appearing in films with not only Lloyd, but Chaplin, Keaton, and
Laurel and Hardy as well! An interesting video essay covers the film’s
locations around L.A. and Hollywood and what those places are like today. Lloyd
himself appears in a Dutch TV interview from 1962—he always comes off as
charming and friendly. Suzanne Lloyd also gives us a tour of Greenacres, the
Lloyd estate. Two rare Lloyd shorts are restored and presented—Over the Fence (1917), the first
“Glasses” picture, and That’s Him
(1918), along with features on the restorations and the creation of the musical
scores on the Wurlitzer organ, engagingly tutored by composer Nathan Barr and
organist Mark Herman. There’s a behind-the-scenes still gallery, and an essay
by critic Carrie Rickey in the package booklet.
The Kid Brother is a first-class
release from Criterion, and a must-have by fans of Harold Lloyd and/or silent
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
“MURDER IN SOFT
By Raymond Benson
De Palma’s crime thriller/horror flick, Dressed
to Kill, was a controversial release in 1980 for its depiction of violence
against women and its sexual content— nevertheless, it was a successful entry in
the director’s oeuvre during the most
fruitful period of his long career. The film was released in America with an
“R” rating—but only after De Palma, under protest, compromised with the ratings
board and agreed to cut some footage, re-edit a couple of sequences, and change
some lines of dialogue.
Palma’s preferred unrated version of the film was released on home video not
too long ago, but The Criterion Collection has seen fit to issue a new, 4K
digital restoration, supervised by the director, of what might have been an
“X”-rated picture back in the day. The results are gorgeous. De Palma’s
thrillers from the mid-seventies and early eighties tended to be shot with a soft
focus that emulated some of Hitchcock’s late work of the sixties and seventies.
This was intentional. De Palma himself admits in a new interview in the disc
supplements that he was in a “Hitchcock period.” The director on numerous
occasions paid homage to the master of suspense in more ways than just the
photographic style alone. For example, Dressed
to Kill contains cool blondes, kinky sex, shower scenes, cross-dressing
killers, the bumping off a protagonist early in the story, and a lush
orchestral score reminiscent of the way Hitch used Bernard Herrmann’s musical lyricism
to heighten tension.
story begins with Kate, a sexually frustrated Manhattan housewife (played by
Angie Dickinson), who is seeing therapist Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine) about her
marriage. Early in the picture there is a brilliantly-choreographed extended
sequence, set in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in which Kate plays
cat-and-mouse with and allows herself to be picked up by a strange man. Then
she gets into serious trouble inside an elevator. A blonde woman in a hat and sunglasses
(resembling Karen Black in Hitchcock’s Family
Plot) slashes her to death with a straight razor. We then learn that one of
Elliott’s patients—a disturbed transsexual—stole the razor from the doctor’s
amateur sleuths Peter, Dickinson’s science-nerd son (played by Keith Gordon)
and Liz, a high class hooker who witnessed the murder (portrayed by Nancy Allen).
They team up to find the killer since the police (represented by a young Dennis
Franz) are having little success with the investigation. The movie then becomes
Allen’s picture. As related by the actress herself in a new interview in the
supplements, De Palma wrote the role for her—after all, she was married to the
director at the time. Allen delivers a performance that got nominated for a
Golden Globe for “Best New Star,” but also for a Razzie (Raspberry Awards) for
outcome of the story is no surprise, but that probably doesn’t matter. Dressed to Kill is all about an exercise
in style. De Palma is the real star
of the movie, and his presence is felt throughout. His signature close-ups,
tracking shots, soft focus, and carefully orchestrated techniques for
generating suspense, scream to the viewer that an auteur is at work. Maybe a little too loudly. But that doesn’t mean
Dressed to Kill isn’t entertaining.
It is. It’s just that it feels like we’ve seen it all before. Perhaps in a
supplements on the disc are extensive. New 2015 interviews include the
previously mentioned ones with De Palma (who is in discussion with
writer/director Noah Baumbach) and Allen, but also producer George Litto,
composer Pino Donaggio, shower-scene body double (and Penthouse Pet of the Year at the time) Victoria Lynn Johnson, and
poster photographic art director Stephen Sayadian. Also new to the release is a
profile of cinematographer Ralf Bode, featuring director Michael Apted.
Previously released extras include a 2001 documentary, The Making of Dressed to Kill, a 2001 interview with actor Keith
Gordon, and more than one feature about the different versions of the film and the
battle with the ratings board. There’s also a gallery of some of De Palma’s
storyboards. The booklet includes an essay by critic Michael Koresky.
Dressed to Kill is not De Palma’s
best work by a long shot, but it is representative of the director’s superb craftsmanship
at a time when he was at the height of his powers. If you’re looking for
something sexy, provocative, and gloriously violent to serve with your popcorn,
Kill will fit the bill.