Thursday, April 20, 2017


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been continually tweaking their mandate and categories ever since they came into existence. The initial ceremony included the immediately dropped category of Best Director, Comedy Picture. The award was given to Lewis Milestone for Two Arabian Knights. The only other nominee was Ted Wilde for Speedy. Wilde had been a longtime gagman and collaborator of star Harold Lloyd. Lloyd is acknowledged for being the directing force behind his films, but always shared or gave credit to valued collaborators on the staff. The awards were presented in May of 1929 and Ted Wilde died of a stroke at age 40 in December of that year.

Speedy is the first Harold Lloyd feature I recall seeing, and is the Lloyd movie I have seen the most often. Do I love it because of the familiarity? Perhaps, but love it I do.

Set in New York City and partially filmed on location, the "time capsule" aspect of Speedy certainly adds to its overall charm and I know that this was a strong draw to my earliest viewings. The black and white jazz age world is not the NYC of my 1980s tourist trips, but it is a place I feel privileged to visit through cinema. Here we pause for a polite round of applause for Harold Lloyd's longtime cinematographer Walter Lundin, who filmed projects with the star from 1915 to 1934. 

Harold Swift, known to one and all as "Speedy", is an energetic, go-getter. Speedy focuses most of his energy toward his passion for baseball and, in particular, for the New York Yankees. The rest of that energy is divided between his love for Jane Dillon and his search for the perfect job. The perfect job for Speedy would be one that doesn't interfere with the Yankees games.

Babe Ruth has a wild ride with Speedy.

Something always seems to happen to wreck Harold's chances with a new employer, whether it be from his own distraction or the combined action of the fates. Is Harold an excellent counter man? He is, and he even finds ingenious ways to relay information about the ballgame to other enthusiasts.

Will Harold be a perfect cab driver? He certainly would be if cops and mechanical glitches didn't get in the way. Nonetheless, it is as a cabbie that Harold enjoys the thrill of a lifetime. He has the opportunity to do the Bambino, the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth himself, the favour of getting him to Yankee Stadium in time for the afternoon game. Truly, one of the greatest celebrities of the era and a name known to this day, Babe is very funny as the eminent ballplayer barely holding on to his nerves as Speedy takes him on a wild ride through the streets of NYC.

A lot of fun is had when Speedy takes his girl, Jane played by Ann Christy, for a day of fun at Coney Island. This was the biggest role Ann Christy had in films before retiring in the early 30s. I think she is a delight. The crowded subway trip is not just a sign of the times, it is something we lifestyle transit users cope with daily. We can't always laugh at it, but we certainly can when Harold finds a myriad of methods to obtain seats.

Ann Christy, Harold Lloyd

Harold and Jane's day at the amusement park with its games, rides and food looks like such fun. Laughs and good times abound. Even when things go wrong, such as a stain on a new suit, the good nature of our couple shines through. However, things are not always sunny when it is back to the workaday. 

Jane's grandfather, "Pop" Dillon is played by Bert Woodruff and he's a hoot as the old fellow. Pop is the owner and operator of a horse-drawn trolley car that is under siege by a transit conglomerate. They are desperate to get his piece of the track but aren't dealing fair with Dillon. In fact, they will go so far as to cheat the old man out of his business. Pop's contract calls for a complete run of his trolley every 24 hours. Well, he won't be able to live up to that contract if his property is stolen, will he?

Harold has become privy to the plans of the crooks involved in the transportation deal and devises a plan to protect Pop from harm and get him the money he is due. It is not something one man can handle on his own. The neighbourhood merchants are all gentlemen of Pop's generation with combat experience. Alright, it was the civil war, but nonetheless, it is experience. They are itching for a fight and, brother, there is a free-for-all with some of the wackiest tactics you are ever likely to witness. It's a funny thing, but the older I get, the more my favourite part of the Speedy involves these stalwart senior citizen vigilantes.

A race against time.

Speedy's frantic and exciting finale is a gag-filled race through the streets of the city with Pop's purloined trolley car. The contract must and will be fulfilled. The scene is classic! Ben-Hur's chariot race is a three-legged race at a picnic in comparison. Personally, I will always lean toward the scene that will make me laugh.

I recommend Speedy to all who are looking for laughs, thrills, and audacious filmmaking from an adept practitioner at the top of his craft.


  1. Babe Ruth at the height of his popularity, one year removed from playing on one of the greatest teams of all time? I think I'd see this for him alone.

    A Best Comedy Director Oscar? Mel Brooks would have had three or four at least. And Woody Allen? Fuhgeddaboutit.

    1. The Babe is a lot of fun in his appearance.

      The Academy was smart enough to institute the category for comedy directors, and then in probably a fit of embarrassment that it was serious enough for the gravity of the awards dropped it. It seems as if the industry doesn't truly understand itself. Sigh.

  2. Being a dog lover, I've always liked the scene where he feeds the dogs...and quickly regrets it. I think this is on TCM's schedule for this week (in the U.S.) so great timing!

    1. Hooray! Timing is everything.

      I didn't mention the dog. How silly of me! Such a great part of the movie. My daughter was worried the pooch would get left behind. She must have been really into the movie.

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