Grandma's Boy (1922)

Director: Fred C. Newmeyer

Stars: Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Anna Townsend

Release Company: New Line

MPAA Rating: NR

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Harold Lloyd: Grandma's Boy


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If you've clicked on this review expecting to see an account of the recent comedy appearing at your Multi-plex, you've arrived at the wrong destination. That movie is now largely forgotten--this review discusses the classic 1922 silent Grandma's Boy--a film that has stood the test of time and may be Harold Lloyd's second most well known comedy, following his memorable "clocking hanging" moments in Safety Last.

It's hard to imagine either Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton toppling from their well established stations atop the silent comedy world, but Harold Lloyd remains waiting in the wings. Their equal in many areas, Lloyd actually made more films than Chaplin and Keaton combined and drew more people at the box office than his more famous rivals. Lloyd actually makes up a unique combination of his two more famous contemporaries. Although the horn-rimmed Lloyd compares more closely to Keaton for his unbelievable daredevil stunts and knack for "getting the girl," his facial expressions mirror Chaplin's emoting ability. Had he directed more films, his subsequent stature may have equaled his rivals.

As it is, Lloyd made some fine films that are even more amazing when realizing that he did his own stunts with some courageous cameramen that didn't rely on special effects. After a serious explosion that caused him to lose part of his right thumb, a finger, and palm in 1919, Lloyd did fewer features afterwards (only 33 of his 209 films and covered his injured hand with a glove or prosthetic (of his 209 films beginning in 1913 just 33 were produced after 1919).

In a business sense, Lloyd matches Chaplin because he obtained ownership rights to his films; thus, the two business savvy comedians lived a far more comfortable lifestyle than Keaton. The fact that the Lloyd family retained the rights to their patriarch's films was a major reason that so few of Lloyd's films had been seen in recent years. Not content with run of the mill presentations, they demanded state of the art preservation and pristine restoration. Thankfully, through the efforts of the Harold Lloyd Trust, the UCLA Film and Television Archive, and Sony Pictures, all of Lloyd's feature-length silent films and most of his shorts received this treatment. And now New Line Cinema offers the most definitive Harold Lloyd collection on DVD, complete with their new orchestral scores by Robert Israel!

Grandma's Boy incorporates the best of the standard Harold Lloyd formula--the humble, bookish "glasses wearing" hero will end up with the girl, besting a "more masculine" rival at the end of non-stop comical sequences. This film largely becomes more memorable than most due to the delightfully charming antics of the hero's tough little Grandma (Anna Townsend). The tiny lady is often picked up and hugged by her adoring grandson, and she honestly and poignantly returns the love--doing all she can to help the timid lad gain self-respect and courage. Townsend also has great timing--at one point forgetting her small statue and chasing off a threatening tramp with her trusty broom.

More tightly constructed than most of Lloyd's comedies, director Fred C. Newmeyer rapidly sketches in the main character with sketches of his bullied back story--a "glasses wearing" baby too afraid to claim his own crib losing his cookie to an aggressive baby followed by a parallel scenario in grade school where the bespeckled youth has his lunch confiscated by a smaller, but more assertive child. The following scene opens with Lloyd laboring with what we assume to be a automobile crankshaft that widens to reveal that it's actually a homemade ice cream machine--just one of many sight gags to come. Striving to impress the girl (Mildred Davis), the boy is destined to be bested by his pugnacious rival (Charles Stevenson), who eventually pushes the wimpy Lloyd into the well.

Convinced that he is a coward, eventually Lloyd despondently gives up all hope of ever being worthy of attracting his girl. That's when his grandma comes to the rescue. She makes up a story about his grandfather (played in flashback by Lloyd) that illustrates how he likewise was afraid to carry out a mission during the Civil War until obtaining a talisman from a mysterious woman, who assured him that it would allow him to overcome all obstacles. Grandma then offers this same "family heirloom" to Lloyd, and our hero gains confidence. Of course, we already know how the story will end up, but watching the improbable and humorous events unfold is enjoyable. There's no dead spots during the 56-minute running time, and the visuals and acting carry the film without much need for inter-titles.

However, inter-titles in Lloyd's films rank among the very best of the silent era. We look forward to H.M. Walker's incomparable work, as he consistently produces the best dry humor and creative metaphors of the era. Just the first card prepares the way as it sets the scene:

Blossom Bend: One of those slow towns where the Tuesday morning Express arrives Wednesday afternoon ... If Monday's train gets out of the way.
Not only do Walker's cards set the scenes and provide obvious humor, viewers need to note the details on occasional graphics for additional chuckles--like the chalk message on the school blackboard that accompanies that early flashback to Lloyd's boyhood. It's rare that inter-titles become memorable moments in a silent film, but Walker deserves credit for making his work so integral with Lloyd's.

As with any silent film, Grandma's Boy isn't going down for nuanced acting and subtlety, but the highly entertaining and engaging comedy ranks as one of the tightest narratives in Harold Lloyd's vast catalog. Previously released on DVD, it now has a definitive version with New Line's box set, volume two. It doesn't have any special features attached specifically, but the simple film really stands on its own. Even though it's a standard Lloyd genre feature, the performances remain as fresh as they did over 80 years ago and far funnier than 95% of the comedies unleashed on today's audiences in the Multi-Plexes.

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