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Perhaps the most indelible image of silent film comedian Harold Lloyd is a bespectacled young man dangling from the hands of a clock high above the city streets. The film is Safety Last (1923), one of five films which Lloyd called his "thrill pictures," in which he performed death-defying stunts on skyscrapers. Proud as he was of them, Lloyd was slightly disgruntled at being remembered solely for those films. "Doesn't anyone remember my other pictures?" he asked film historian Kevin Brownlow. "I made close to three hundred, and only five were thrill pictures." True, but even when he wasn't hundreds of feet in the air, part of the charm of his gawky character was his daredevil physical antics, whether on a skyscraper, a bus, or a motorcycle.
Never Weaken (1921) is notable not only for being the third of the so-called "thrill comedies," but also as the last short Lloyd made before concentrating exclusively on feature films. Lloyd's character, "The Boy," is in love with "The Girl," played by Mildred Davis, but he mistakenly believes she loves another. Despondent, he decides to commit suicide, and the rest of Never Weaken involves his unsuccessful attempts to kill himself. His suicide attempts become more and more elaborate, until he ends up on the beams of a high-rise construction site.
According to the recent book, Harold Lloyd, Master Comedian by Jeffrey Vance (Harry N. Abrams), Lloyd and Producer Hal Roach stumbled onto the idea of having Lloyd face danger on high while shooting a scene for Look Out Below (1919), above the Hill Street tunnel in Los Angeles. They realized that they could shoot the scene of Lloyd and co-star Bebe Daniels sitting on a girder that is lifted high into the air without actually being more than a few feet off the ground, by carefully composing the shot and using false perspective. In this and subsequent films, like High and Dizzy (1920), Never Weaken, and Safety Last, however, much of the action was not faked. While Lloyd used doubles for extreme wide shots, and took safety precautions such as having mattress-covered platforms and safety nets just out of camera range, part of the thrill in the films is the fact that Lloyd was doing his own stunts. This is even more remarkable since Lloyd had been severely injured during the production of Haunted Spooks (1920), when a prop bomb he was holding turned out to be real and exploded. He lost his right thumb and forefinger, and his hand was semi-paralyzed. Yet he wore a prosthetic glove, and continued to perform stunts which required him to hold on to something.
Never Weaken was a three-reel short, running approximately 20 minutes. While Lloyd and Roach knew they'd eventually start making longer and more lucrative features, they didn't expect their next film, A Sailor-Made Man (1921) to be their first one. It started out as a two-reeler, and kept growing. The same thing happened with the next one, Grandma's Boy (1922). After making five successful features with Roach, they parted company and Lloyd formed his own production company. He made five more silents and seven sound films before retiring. A canny businessman, Lloyd retained control of his films, and kept them out of circulation for many years. After playing "the girl" in more than a dozen Lloyd films, Mildred Davis retired from the screen in 1923 to marry her co-star. They remained married until her death in 1969. Harold Lloyd died in 1971, at the age of 77.
Director: Fred C. Newmeyer
Producer: Hal Roach
Story: Hal Roach & Sam Taylor
Editor: T. J. Crizer
Original Music: Robert Israel
Principal Cast: Harold Lloyd (The Boy), Mildred Davis (The Girl), Roy Brooks (The Other Man), Mark Jones (The Acrobat), Charles Stevenson (The Police Force).
by Margarita Landazuri