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Harold Lloyd always said that his first two feature films, A Sailor-Made Man (1921) and Grandma's Boy (1922) weren't intended as features, but were just shorts that grew. And while that may be true of the former, Grandma's Boy is a true feature (although a short one, at only 49 minutes), with a well- developed storyline and characters.
In Grandma's Boy, Lloyd plays Sonny, a cowardly young man who is too frightened to join a manhunt for a murderer, and flees to his grandmother's house. She inspires him by telling him about his grandfather, who was also cowardly, until he was given an amulet which made him invincible. In a flashback sequence, Lloyd played Sonny's grandfather during the Civil War. Rather than give up his trademark glasses, Lloyd used a pair of square-rimmed frames appropriate to the period. Grandma gives Sonny the amulet, and he joins the manhunt, not realizing that Grandma has tricked him into being brave. A 77-year old charmer named Anna Townsend played Grandma and she would earn small roles in the next two Lloyd films, Dr. Jack (1922) and Safety Last (1923). Playing the girl Sonny loves in Grandma's Boy was Lloyd's usual co-star and real-life sweetheart, Mildred Davis. They would marry the following year, and she would retire from the screen.
The idea for Grandma's Boy was Lloyd's. He was proud of it, and convinced that it was something special. But at a sneak preview, the audience didn't laugh very much. As Lloyd told the story in later years, producer Hal Roach said to him, "Harold, you're a comic, you've got to get laughs. Let's go back." So they went back into production and put more gags into the film, and "it just blossomed." But, Lloyd told film historian Kevin Brownlow, "we never lost any of our theme. I wouldn't let go of one inch of it. And if I had to choose my favorite of all my films, I would choose Grandma's Boy. It could have been a drama just as easily as a comedy."
When it came time to market the film, Roach and Lloyd ran into an unexpected roadblock. "When it came to getting more money for it, the exhibitors were a little loath to pay us more than they had been paying for two-reelers, so....we took a third-run house that was showing newsreels and we put the picture in there. They thought we were off our rocker, but the picture ran nineteen weeks. It established a tremendous record and from then on we had no trouble." Grandma's Boy grossed just under a million dollars, a huge amount for that time.
Charles Chaplin, who had been among the first silent film comedians to realize the potential of longer film comedies for character development with The Kid (1921), was a fan of Grandma's Boy. "It is one of the best constructed screenplays I have ever seen on the screen," he said. "The boy has a fine understanding of light and shape and that picture has given me a real artistic thrill and stimulated me to go ahead."
Director: Fred C. Newmeyer
Producer: Hal Roach
Screenplay: Hal Roach, Jean Havez, Harold Lloyd, Sam Taylor; H.M. Walker, Intertitle Writer<
Cinematography: Walter Lundin
Editor: T.J. Crizer
Original Music: Robert Israel
Cast: Harold Lloyd (Sonny, Granddaddy), Mildred Davis (Mildred), Anna Townsend (Grandma), Charles Stevenson (The Bully), Dick Sutherland (The Tramp), Noah Young (The Sheriff).
by Margarita Landazuri