Cast & Crew
After Harold Diddlebock, a bumbling freshman water boy, scores the winning touchdown for his college's football team, he is approached by alumnus E. J. Waggleberry. In the excitement of the moment, Waggleberry, an advertising tycoon, offers Harold a job upon his graduation, but when Harold appears in the executive's New York office four years later, Waggleberry fails to remember him. Although Harold dreams of becoming an "ideas man," Waggleberry assigns him to a lowly position in the bookkeeping department. Twenty-two years later, the platitude-spouting Harold is still working as a bookkeeper when he is fired by Waggleberry for incompetency and lack of ambition. Before leaving the agency, Harold collects his life savings and confesses to Miss Otis, an artist with the firm, that he is in love with her. Recalling her six older sisters, all of whom he fell in love with but never proposed to, Harold then gives Miss Otis the engagement ring he bought for her eldest sister years before. Later, on the street, a depressed Harold is studying the classifieds when Wormy, a racetrack tout, asks him for four dollars. After Harold hands the pesky Wormy a large bill, Wormy, sensing an opportunity, insists on taking his sad "friend" to a bar. There bartender Jake concocts a special drink for Harold, who has never imbibed alcohol. The drink, which Jake proudly dubs "The Diddlebock," emboldens Harold and causes him to yowl uncontrollably. Gazing at himself in the bar mirror, Harold suddenly declares himself a loser and races out to remake himself. Soon Harold is getting his hair cut and his nails manicured, and is trying on a gaudy suit supplied by tailor Formfit Franklin. In the midst of his transformation, Harold overhears Wormy talking with Max, a bookmaker's assistant, and impulsively bets $1,000 on a long shot named Emmaline. To everyone's surprise, Emmaline wins, and the now-rich Harold begins to celebrate all around town. Sometime later, Harold is awakened at home by his widowed sister Flora, who chastises him for his wild, irresponsible behavior and hideous clothes. Unable to remember much about his drunken binge, particularly about what he did on Wednesday, Harold wanders outside and is surprised to learn that he now owns a hansom cab and employs an English driver named Thomas. A worried Wormy then rushes up and informs Harold that, with winnings from a second bet, Harold also bought a bankrupt circus. To feed the circus' starving lions and tigers, Harold first seeks help from the Kitty-Poo Home for Cats, then gets the idea to sell the circus to Wall Street banker Lynn Sargent. Although circus lover Sargent reveals that he, too, is trying to unload an unprofitable bigtop, Harold immediately comes up with another scheme. With Jackie, a tame circus lion, in tow, Harold and Wormy visit other bankers and suggest that, to improve their public image, they invest in a free circus for children. Jackie's presence causes a screaming panic, and soon Jackie, Harold and Wormy end up on the ledge of a skyscraper window. After nearly falling to their deaths, the trio is arrested and thrown in jail. As hoped, Harold's picture appears in the newspaper, but it is Miss Otis, not the bankers, who comes to bail him out. When Thomas then reveals that the newspaper listed the wrong police station in its story, Harold and Wormy rush to the other station and are relieved to see a mob of bankers there. The bankers bid desperately on the circus, but are quickly outbid by a representative of the Ringling Brothers circus. To celebrate, Harold downs a "Diddlebock," and sometime later, finds himself in his cab with Miss Otis. Although Miss Otis informs him that he received $175,000 for the circus and has been made an executive at Waggleberry's firm, Harold notices that she is wearing a wedding ring and becomes depressed. Miss Otis then reveals that, during his last "Diddlebock" binge, he married her. Reassuring Harold that she truly loves him, Miss Otis gives him a big kiss, and Harold finally remembers what he was doing on Wednesday.
Jackie, The Lion
Charles R. Moore
J. Farrell Macdonald
Victor A. Gangelin
Werner R. Heymann
The Sin of Harold Diddlebock aka Mad Wednesday
In 1944 Preston Sturges decided not to renew his contract with Paramount, the studio at which he had made some of his best and most popular films including The Lady Eve (1941), Sullivan's Travels (1941) and The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944). Sturges turned down lucrative offers from other studios as well and announced that he was going into business with Howard Hughes.
Hughes, an eccentric businessman who had dabbled in Hollywood before as a producer on such films as Hell's Angels (1930) and The Outlaw (1943), had become friendly with Sturges a decade earlier and thought they would work well together. The two men officially formed the California Pictures Corporation in late 1944. Sturges would serve as the Executive Producer and oversee all creative aspects of their film productions while Hughes would provide the financing. As Sturges explained in his 1990 self-titled memoir, "Howard wanted someone to manage his motion picture activities while he devoted all of his time to his aviation projects." Howard Hughes added in a press conference at the time, "I want to make one thing clear - I can't devote any time whatsoever to the motion picture business until (World War II) is over. Sturges is the man in whom I have complete confidence. I am happy to turn over to him the full control and direction of all my motion picture activities."
Shortly thereafter California Pictures announced that the company's first project would be The Saga of Harold Diddlebock (the "Saga" in the title was eventually changed to "Sin" as a winking reference to the 1931 film The Sin of Madelon Claudet). Although there was no script in place, Preston Sturges described the story as "sort of a satire on football heroes." Sturges had long been an admirer of the great silent film comedian Harold Lloyd and wanted to work with him. When he got the idea to use the clip from Lloyd's The Freshman as the beginning of The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, he hoped that he could get Lloyd himself to star in the film. Lloyd, however, had not made a film since 1938's Professor Beware and was unofficially retired from the silver screen living comfortably off a lifetime of lucrative investments. Lloyd turned out to be a fan of Sturges' work, however, and jumped at the chance to work with him. Together, Lloyd believed they had the potential to make a terrific comedy.
The teaming of Preston Sturges and Harold Lloyd - two comedy greats - was truly inspired, and the pair couldn't wait to work together. When production began on The Sin of Harold Diddlebock in September 1945, things started smoothly. Sturges tried to tailor the film to suit Lloyd's comic style, even including a daredevil sequence that involved dangling off of a building while attached to a live lion - the sort of stunt that had made Lloyd famous in films such as Safety Last! (1923). Lloyd later recalled, "Any scene I had to do, (Sturges) said, 'Harold, how do you figure you'd like to play this?' I'd say, 'I'll think it over and bring it to you in the morning.' I'd come in the morning with a version of how I thought it should go. He'd say, 'That's it.' We had no trouble. We just seemed to be in complete harmony."
As shooting progressed, however, problems began to emerge. Sturges and Lloyd were both strong personalities who were used to calling the shots. Even though they liked and respected each other, they had fundamentally different approaches to comedy which often left them at odds. Sturges was a man of words, famous for his snappy dialogue. Lloyd, however, was a master of physical comedy and sight gags. "I couldn't make suggestions to (Sturges)," said Lloyd years later. "There was too much talk, talk, talk and not enough sight comedy."
Eventually Sturges and Lloyd made an agreement to shoot every scene two ways: one would be how Sturges wanted it, and the other would be how Lloyd wanted it. Harold Lloyd recalled, "I didn't agree with how (Sturges) wanted me to play the character. I had a section in my contract that if I didn't like it, I could play it the way I wanted, but I also had to do it the way he wanted. That meant that in the projection room, we had to argue it out, and we didn't fare any better in the projection room than we had on the set. For about two weeks, we made two versions, two scenes, each way...He didn't want gags to come into it, he wanted this dialogue...I came to him with business (Lloyd's term for physical sight gag humor) and he said, 'Hell, the business is too good for my dialogue!' I said, 'Preston, this is terrible.' He said, 'It'll kill my dialogue.' I said, 'Let it kill the dialogue, what are we after? We're after entertainment, laughs.' (Preston said), 'Harold, I can't do it.' So I stopped looking for business. There was the difficulty we had."
When The Sin of Harold Diddlebock was released in 1947 neither Sturges nor Lloyd was happy with it. Even more disappointing was the lackluster reception it received at the box office. Howard Hughes quickly pulled the film from distribution and spent three years cutting and re-cutting it without input from either Sturges or Lloyd. After significantly shortening the length and tacking on a new ending, Hughes re-titled the film Mad Wednesday and re-released it through RKO in 1951. The changes to the troubled film, however, made little difference, and Mad Wednesday suffered the same fate as its previous version.
The entire experience was a major disappointment for Sturges and Lloyd. It was Sturges' first flop after riding a long wave of hits. His partnership with Howard Hughes was dissolved shortly thereafter. For Lloyd, it was a lackluster return to the big screen in what should have been a major triumph. Lloyd ended up suing Howard Hughes, California Pictures and RKO for $750,000 according to Lloyd's granddaughter Suzanne, "charging that they deliberately attempted to damage his reputation by not giving him top billing on the re-release." The case was eventually settled for $30,000. Lloyd never made another film. In his 1928 autobiography Lloyd wrote, "When the time comes I shall not try to fool either the public or myself, but will bow my way out as gracefully as I can manage..."
There are still plenty of hilarious moments in The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, and any fan of Preston Sturges or Harold Lloyd will find the film a fascinating collaboration. Character actors Edgar Kennedy (known as the "king of the slow burn"), Lionel Stander, Margaret Hamilton and Franklin Pangborn are excellent in supporting roles.
Producers: Howard Hughes, Preston Sturges (uncredited)
Director: Preston Sturges
Screenplay: Preston Sturges
Cinematography: Robert Pittack
Art Direction: Robert Usher
Music: Werner R. Heymann; Harry Rosenthal (uncredited)
Film Editing: Thomas Neff; Stuart Gilmore (re-issue)
Cast: Harold Lloyd (Harold Diddlebock), Jimmy Conlin (Wormy), Raymond Walburn (E.J. Waggleberry), Rudy Vallee (Lynn Sargent), Edgar Kennedy (Jake), Arline Judge (Manicurist), Franklin Pangborn (Formfit Franklin), Lionel Stander (Max), Margaret Hamilton (Flora), Jack Norton (James R. Smoke), Robert Dudley (Robert McDuffy),Arthur Hoyt (J.P. Blackston).
by Andrea Passafiume
The Sin of Harold Diddlebock aka Mad Wednesday
Preston Sturges wrote this screenplay in order to entice Harold Lloyd out of retirement.
This film was also reviewed and released under the title Mad Wednesday, and is still listed under both titles. The viewed print opened with the following written foreword: "The football game you are about to see was actually photographed in 1925 as part of Harold Lloyd's famous picture 'The Freshman:' The story of a water boy who thought he was a member of the team." The following acknowledgment appeared at the end of the viewed print: "The California Pictures Corporation is extremely grateful to Mr. Harold Lloyd for his permission to use part of 'The Freshman,' and to Messrs. Wally Westmore and Robert Paris for their able assistance to Mr. Lloyd in the creation of the role of Harold Diddlebock." The Freshman, which was released in 1925 by Pathé Exchange, was a highly successful silent film starring Harold Lloyd as bumbler "Harold Lamb" (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films; 1921-30; F2.1971). The 1925 football footage is intercut with some contemporary footage. Preston Sturges' onscreen credit reads: "An original screenplay written and directed by Preston Sturges." Although a 1946 copyright statement appears on the viewed print, the picture was registered with the Copyright Office in 1950, under the title Mad Wednesday. According to an April 1948 Hollywood Reporter news item, Polish-born cameraman Curtis Courant actually shot this picture, but was not awarded screen credit because he was not a union member. The union local required that he have a stand-by first cameraman (Robert Pittack, presumably) and was not permitted to give orders or touch any equipment.
Lloyd, who was one of the most popular silent film comics, returned to the screen with this picture after a nine-year absence. (His previous screen appearance was in Paramount's 1938 film Professor Beware.) In July 1944, Hollywood Reporter reported that Lloyd and Sturges were closing a deal in which Lloyd would become a producer-director at California Studios, a company that Sturges had just formed with millionaire producer-businessman Howard Hughes. Lloyd's first project was announced at that time as The Sin of Hilda Diddlebeck, a story by Sturges about the "escapades of a girl in Hollywood." Modern sources note that Sturges tempted Lloyd, one of his movie idols, back to the screen by promising to allow him to direct a part of the picture. By the time shooting had begun, however, Lloyd was functioning only as a performer, according to modern sources. The picture's window ledge sequence recalls one of Lloyd's best known screen "stunts" from his 1923 silent comedy, Safety Last. Although Hollywood Reporter announced in June 1945 that Sturges and Lloyd were set to make a second picture together, called The Wizard of Whispering Falls, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock was Lloyd's last original film. (His final two releases were compilation films.)
Although screen credits suggest that Frances Ramsden made her debut in the film, she had appeared previously in other films. Contemporary news items add the following information about the production: In September 1945, Orson Welles was announced as a cast member, playing a magician, but was not seen in the viewed print. Ginny Wren and Timmy Hawkins were also cast in the film, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Some scenes in the picture were filmed in a hansom cab on Riverside Drive in Los Angeles. Modern sources add that because California Pictures was a new company, Sturges did not have an adequate production support system and at one point tried to purchase Sherman Studios. When that failed, he moved the production to the Goldwyn Studios, where he went $600,000 over budget. Additional shooting, including the window ledge sequence, was done at Sturges' former studio, Paramount, according to modern sources.
In May 1947, according to Hollywood Reporter, Hughes ran a contest among his employees to find a shorter title for the picture, offering $250 to the winner. Contemporary sources note that in June 1947, after it had played in only three cities, United Artists pulled the film from distribution and retitled it Mad Wednesday. According to Daily Variety, the title was changed because of concerns that the word "sin" would be damaging to the "family trade." Intending to put the picture back in circulation by October 1947, United Artists then sent a special effects crew to San Francisco to film process shots. The film was not shown theatrically until 1950, however. Modern sources claim that United Artists backed out of its distribution deal with producer Howard Hughes. On October 28, 1950, after Hughes had acquired RKO, RKO released the film nationally as Mad Wednesday. At that time, the picture was cut from approximately 90 to 77 minutes. In his autobiography, Sturges commented that for its 1947 release, the film "got the best reviews I ever received." (Most of the reviews were mixed and commented on the unevenness of the humor.) Sturges added that Hughes "took this as a cue to recut the picture entirely, leaving out all the parts I considered the best in the picture, and adding to its end a talking horse."
Credits for the 1950 version, as reflected by the copyright cutting continuity, differ slightly from the 1947 version. In the 1950 version, Harold Lloyd's name appears below the film's title. (According to contemporary news items, Lloyd filed a $750,000 lawsuit in 1953 against RKO and California Pictures, claiming that his loss of star billing on the film and in advertising constituted a breach of contract. The disposition of that suit is not known.) Rudy Vallee, whose part was all but eliminated, does not receive onscreen credit in the later version, nor does Georgia Caine. In addition, Jerry Fairbanks is listed as providing the "talking animal process" for the 1950 version. Ramsden's elaborate onscreen 1947 credit was reduced to "and introducing Frances Ramsden" in the shortened version. (The viewed print was titled The Sin of Harold Diddlebock and included all of the cut scenes.) Modern sources credit Stuart Gilmore as editor of the shortened version and Melvin Koontz as the trainer of Jackie, the lion. In addition, modern sources list Alice in the role of the hansom carriage horse and add the following actors to the cast: Wilbur Mack (Football rooter), Harry Rosenthal (Reveler), Angelo Rossitto (Dwarf), Tom McGuire (Police captain), Bob Reeves (Ringling Bros. representative) and Ethelreda Leopold.