Sunday, February 21, 2016


Terry (Marlon Brando) speaks with Charley (Rod Steiger) about his lost days of promise, then Charley hands him a gun and lets him go.

This classic story of Mob informers was based on a number of true stories and filmed on location in and around the docks of New York and New Jersey. Mob-connected union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) rules the waterfront with an iron fist. The police know that he's been responsible for a number of murders, but witnesses play deaf and dumb ("plead D & D"). Washed-up boxer Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) has had an errand-boy job because of the influence of his brother Charley, a crooked union lawyer (Rod Steiger). Witnessing one of Friendly's rub-outs, Terry is willing to keep his mouth shut until he meets the dead dockworker's sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint). "Waterfront priest" Father Barry (Karl Malden) tells Terry that Edie's brother was killed because he was going to testify against boss Friendly before the crime commission. Because he could have intervened, but didn't, Terry feels somewhat responsible for the death. When Father Barry receives a beating from Friendly's goons, Terry is persuaded to cooperate with the commission. Featuring Brando's famous "I coulda been a contendah" speech, On the Waterfront has often been seen as an allegory of "naming names" against suspected Communists during the anti-Communist investigations of the 1950s. Director Elia Kazan famously informed on suspected Communists before a government committee -- unlike many of his colleagues, some of whom went to prison for refusing to "name names" and many more of whom were blacklisted from working in the film industry for many years to come -- and Budd Schulberg's screenplay has often been read as an elaborate defense of the informer's position. On the Waterfront won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor for Brando, and Best Supporting Actress for Saint.

Why ON THE WATERFRONT is Essential
"The finest thing ever done by an American film actor" was how director Elia Kazan has characterized the performance of Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront (1954), the classic tale of crime and corruption among unionized dock workers in New York and New Jersey. Brando plays Terry Malloy, a washed-up boxer turned longshoreman who witnesses a murder arranged by a union boss and agrees to testify before the Crime Commission.

Kazan, in developing the film from Malcolm Johnson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning articles, originally asked playwright Arthur Miller to write the screenplay. When Miller refused, reportedly because of Kazan’s testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee that had implicated others as Communist sympathizers, Kazan turned to novelist/screenwriter Budd Schulberg, who also had "named names" for the Committee. Brando later wrote in his autobiography, Songs My Mother Taught Me, that On the Waterfront "was really a metaphorical argument" by Kazan and Schulberg: "They made the film to justify finking on their friends. Evidently, as Terry Malloy, I represented the spirit of the brave, courageous man who defied evil."

Frank Sinatra, who had been Kazan’s original choice to play Terry, sued producer Sam Spiegel for breach of contract after Brando was cast instead, and retained bitter feelings for Brando that surfaced when the two co-starred a year later in Guys and Dolls (1955) - with Brando once again in a role that Sinatra coveted. Kazan had considered Grace Kelly and Rosemary Clooney for the role eventually filled by Saint in her film debut. Rod Steiger, who played Terry’s weasel-like brother, shares Brando’s famous "I coulda been a contender" scene in the taxicab. Steiger also felt a certain bitterness toward Brando because the latter bolted from the set when his portion of that scene was completed, leaving Steiger to play his close-ups to a stand-in.

On the Waterfront won eight Oscars - for Best Picture, Director (Kazan), Actor (Brando), Supporting Actress (Saint), Screenplay (Schulberg), Black-and-White Cinematography, Art Direction/Set Decoration and Editing. No less than three of the film’s supporting actors -Cobb, Steiger and Karl Malden, as a priest - were nominated, but the Oscar in that category went to Edmond O’Brien for The Barefoot Contessa. Leonard Bernstein also was nominated for the film’s score, his first. Kazan’s testimony for the HUAC remained a controversial issue in 1998, when he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Oscar.

by Roger Fristoe and Scott McGee 



At the request of mob boss Johnny Friendly, longshoreman Terry Malloy, a former boxer, lures fellow dock worker Joey Doyle to the roof of his tenement building, purportedly to discuss their shared hobby of pigeon racing. Believing that Friendly only intends to frighten Joey out of his threat to speak to the New York State Crime Commission, Terry is stunned to see Joey topple from the building as he and his brother, Charley "the Gent," watch from across the street.

As neighbors gather around Joey's body, his distraught sister Edie accuses parish priest Father Barry of hiding behind the church and not helping the neighborhood break free from the mob's grip. Listening nearby, Terry is disturbed by Edie's indictment and later joins Charley, Friendly's lawyer and accountant, at a meeting with Friendly and his lackeys. Friendly assures Terry that Joey's death was necessary to preserve his hold on the harbor, then directs dock manager Big Mac to place Terry in the top job slot the following day.

The next morning, while waiting for the day's work assignment, the dock workers offer their sympathy to Joey's father Pop, who gives Joey's jacket to Kayo Dugan. Terry is approached by Crime Commission representative Eddy Glover, but refuses to discuss Joey. Edie comes down to the docks to apologize to Father Barry, but he admits that her accusation has prompted him to become more involved in the lives of the longshoremen. Father Barry asks some of the men to meet downstairs in the church, despite being advised that Friendly does not approve of union meetings.

Later, in the warehouse, Charley asks Terry to sit in on the church meeting. When Terry hesitates, Charley dismisses his brother's fears of "stooling." Despite the sparse turnout, Father Barry adamantly declares that mob control of the docks must end and demands to know about Joey's murder. Several men bristle in anger upon seeing Terry at the meeting, and Kayo tells Father Barry that no one will talk out of fear that Friendly will find out. Father Barry insists the men can fight Friendly and the mob through the courts, but the men refuse to participate. Friendly's stooges break up the meeting by hurling stones through the church windows. After Pop and Kayo are attacked outside, Father Barry presses Kayo to take action and Kayo agrees. Terry insists on walking Edie home and, on the way, she hesitatingly tells him abut her convent upbringing and ambition to teach.

At home, Pop scolds Edie for walking with Terry, whom he calls a bum, and demands that she return to college. Edie responds that she must stay to find out who killed Joey. Later that day Edie is surprised to find Terry on the roof with Joey's pigeons. Terry shows her his own prize bird, then asks her if she would like to have a beer with him. At the bar, Terry tells Edie that he and Charley were placed in an orphanage after their father died, but they eventually ran away. He took up boxing and Friendly bought a percentage of him, but his career faded.

Swept up among wedding party revelers, Edie and Terry dance together until they are interrupted by Glover, who serves Terry with a subpoena to the Crime Commission hearings. Edie demands to know if Friendly arranged Joey's murder, and when Terry cautions her to stop asking questions, she accuses him of still being owned by the mobster.

That evening, Friendly visits Terry, who is evasive about the church meeting, then surprised when Friendly reveals that Kayo testified before the commission. Charley criticizes Terry for seeing Edie, and Friendly orders Terry back to working in the ship hold. The next day in the hold, Terry attempts to speak with Kayo, but the older man brushes him aside, calling him one of Friendly's boys. Big Mac and one of his henchmen rig a crane to slip, and a load of boxes crashes down upon Kayo, killing him in front of Terry. Outraged, Father Barry gives an impromptu eulogy for Kayo, asserting that Kayo was killed to prevent him from testifying.

After two of Friendly's henchmen begin pelting the priest with fruit and vegetables, Pop and Edie arrive and watch as Father Barry ignores the abuse and exhorts the men to believe in themselves and reject mob control. Terry furiously knocks out one of the henchmen, angering Friendly and Charley. Later, Father Barry returns Joey's jacket to Pop and Edie. That night, after Edie gives Joey's jacket to Terry, the guilt-stricken Terry tries but is unable to tell her about his part in Joey's murder. The next morning Terry seeks out Father Barry to ask for guidance as he believes he is falling in love with Edie, but is conflicted about testifying and about going against Charley. Father Barry maintains that Terry must follow his conscience and challenges him to be honest with Edie.

When Terry meets Edie on the beach later, he relates the details of the night of Joey's murder, insisting that he did not know Joey would be killed, but Edie rushes away in distress. Later while tending his pigeons on the roof, Terry is visited by Glover and implies that he might be willing to testify. Their meeting is reported to Friendly, who orders Charley to straighten Terry out. That night, Charley takes Terry on a cab drive and chides him for not telling him about the subpoena. When Terry attempts to explain his confusion, Charley brusquely threatens him with a gun. Hurt, Terry reproaches his older brother for not looking after him and allowing him to become a failure and a bum by involving him with the mob. Charley gives Terry the gun and says he will stall Friendly. Terry goes to see Edie, and breaks down her apartment door when she refuses to let him in and demands to know if she cares for him. Edie tells Terry to listen to his conscience, which angers him, but the two embrace.

When Terry is summoned to the street, Edie begs him not to go, then follows him. After the couple is nearly run down by a truck, they find Charley's body hung up on a meat hook on a nearby fence. Taking down his brother's body, Terry vows revenge on Friendly, and sends Edie for Father Barry. Armed, Terry hunts for Friendly at his regular bar, but Father Barry convinces him that the best way to ruin Friendly is in court and Terry throws away the gun.

The next day at the hearings, Terry testifies to Friendly's involvement in Joey's death, outraging the mobster, who shouts threats at him. Back at home, Terry is scorned by the neighbors for testifying and discovers that his pigeons have been killed by a boy he once coached. Edie attempts to comfort Terry, advising him to leave, but Terry insists that he has the right to stay in his town. The next day Terry reports to work as usual, but is ignored by the men and refused work by Big Mac. In his office at the pier, Friendly, who is about to be indicted, swears vengeance on Terry.

Terry confronts Friendly on the pier, declaring he is nothing without guns, and the two fall into a brutal fistfight. While Friendly's men help to thrash Terry, the dockworkers watch impassively as Edie arrives with Father Barry. Friendly orders the longshoremen to begin unloading, but the men refuse and demand that Terry be allowed to work, hoping the shipping owners will witness their refusal to obey Friendly and realize their intention to restart a clean union. Father Barry urges on the beaten Terry, who rises and defiantly stumbles down the pier and into the warehouse.

Monday, February 15, 2016


By Roger Ebert

Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard” is the portrait of a forgotten silent star, living in exile in her grotesque mansion, screening her old films, dreaming of a comeback. But it's also a love story, and the love keeps it from becoming simply a waxworks or a freak show. Gloria Swanson gives her greatest performance as the silent star Norma Desmond, with her grasping talons, her theatrical mannerisms, her grandiose delusions. William Holden tactfully inhabits the tricky role of the writer half her age, who allows himself to be kept by her. But the performance that holds the film together, that gives it emotional resonance and makes it real in spite of its gothic flamboyance, is by Erich von Stroheim, as Norma's faithful butler Max.

The movie cuts close to the bone, drawing so directly from life that many of the silent stars at the movie's premiere recognized personal details. In no character, not even Norma, does it cut closer than with Max von Mayerling, a once-great silent director, now reduced to working as the butler of the woman he once directed--and was married to. There are unmistakable parallels with von Stroheim, who directed Swanson in "Queen Kelly” (1928), whose credits included "Greed" and "The Merry Widow,” but who directed only two sound films and was reduced to playing Nazi martinets and parodies of himself in other people's films.

In "Sunset Boulevard,” Desmond screens one of her old silent classics for Joe Gillis, the young writer played by Holden. Max runs the projector. The scene is from “Queen Kelly.” For a moment Swanson and von Stroheim are simply playing themselves. Later, when Joe is moved into the big mansion, Max shows him to an ornate bedroom and explains, "It was the room of the husband.” Max is talking about himself; he was the first of her three husbands, and loved her so much he was willing to return as a servant, feeding her illusions, forging her fan mail, fiercely devoted to her greatness.

In one of the greatest of all film performances, Swanson's Norma Desmond skates close to the edge of parody; Swanson takes enormous chances with theatrical sneers and swoops and posturings, holding Norma at the edge of madness for most of the picture, before letting her slip over. We might not take her seriously. That's where Max comes in. Because he believes, because he has devoted his life to her shrine, we believe. His love convinces us there must be something worth loving in Norma, and that in turn helps explain how Joe can accept her.

Norma of course is not a wrinkled crone. She is only 50 in the film, younger than stars such as Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve. There is a scene during Norma's beauty makeover when a magnifying glass is held in front of her eyes, and we are startled by how smooth Swanson's skin is. Swanson in real life was a health nut who fled from the sun, which no doubt protected her skin (she was 53 when she made the film), but the point in "Sunset Boulevard” is that she has aged not in the flesh but in the mind; she has become fixed at the moment of her greatness, and lives in the past.

Billy Wilder and his co-writer Charles Brackett knew the originals of the characters. What was unusual was how realistic Wilder dared to be. He used real names (Darryl Zanuck, Tyrone Power, Alan Ladd). He showed real people (Norma's bridge partners, cruelly called "the waxworks” by Gillis, are the silent stars Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nilsson and H.B. Warner). He drew from life (when Norma visits Cecil B. De Mille at Paramount, the director is making a real film, "Samson and Delilah,” and calls Norma "little fellow,” which is what he always called Swanson). When Max the butler tells Joe, "There were three young directors who showed promise in those days, D.W. Griffith, Cecil B. De Mille and Max von Mayerling,” if you substituted von Stroheim for von Mayerling, it would be a fair reflection of von Stroheim's stature in the 1920s.

"Sunset Boulevard” remains the best drama ever made about the movies because it sees through the illusions, even if Norma doesn't. When the silent star first greets the penniless writer inside her mansion, they have a classic exchange. “You used to be big,” he says. Norma responds with the great line, "I am big. It's the pictures that got small.” Hardly anyone remembers Joe's next line: "I knew there was something wrong with them.”

The plot has supplied Joe with a lot of reasons to accept Norma's offer of a private screenwriting job. He's broke and behind on his rent, his car is about to be repossessed, and he doesn't want to go back to his job as a newspaperman in Dayton. He is also not entirely unwilling to prostitute himself; Holden projects subtle weakness and self-loathing into the role. He goes through the forms of saying he doesn't want Norma's gifts, but he takes them--the gold cigarette cases, the platinum watch, the suits, the shirts, the shoes. He claims to be surprised on New Year's Eve when she throws a party just for the two of them, but surely he has known from the first that she wants not only a writer, but a young man to reassure her that she is still attractive.

The thing about Norma is that life with her isn't all bad. She isn't boring. Her histrionics and dramaturgy are entertaining, and she has a charming side, as when she stages a pantomime for Joe, playing a Max Sennett bathing girl and then doing a passable version of Chaplin's Tramp. Joe is willing to be kept. The only thing the film lacks is more sympathy between Joe and Max, who have so much in common.

There is of course the young blond Paramount writer Betty (Nancy Olson), who Joe meets early in the picture. She's engaged to be married (to a young Jack Webb), but as Joe begins sneaking out of the mansion to collaborate on a screenplay with Betty, she falls in love with him. He's attracted, but pulls back, partly because he doesn't want her to discover the truth, but also because he likes the lifestyle with Norma. And ... maybe because, like Max, he has fallen under her spell? His dialogue is sharp-edged and can be cruel. (When she threatens suicide, he tells her, "Oh, wake up, Norma. You'd be killing yourself to an empty house. The audience left 20 years ago.”) But there's a certain pity, too. "Poor devil,” he says, "still waving proudly to a parade which had long since passed her by.”

I have seen "Sunset Boulevard” many times, and even analyzed it a shot at a time at the University of Virginia. But on this latest screening I was struck by its similarity with the 1964 Japanese drama "Woman in the Dunes." Both are about men who are trapped in the home, or lair, of a woman who simply will not let them out again. They struggle, they thrash a little, they look for the means of escape, but at some subterranean level they are content to be prisoners, and perhaps even enjoy it. Both women need a man to help them hold back the inexorable advance of the sands--in Norma's case, the sands of time.

Of all the great directors of Hollywood's golden age, has anybody made more films that are as fresh and entertaining to this day as Billy Wilder's? The credits are astonishing: “Double Indemnity,” “Ace in the Hole,” “Some Like It Hot,” “The Apartment,” “The Lost Weekend,” “Stalag 17,” “Witness for the Prosecution,” “Sabrina.” And who else can field two contenders among the greatest closing lines of all time? From “Some Like It Hot” there is “Nobody's perfect.” And from “Sunset Boulevard,” Norma Desmond's: “There's nothing else. Just us, and the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark. All right, Mr. De Mille, I'm ready for my closeup.”

Monday, February 1, 2016

Harold Lloyd in Luna Park

Speedy: The Comic Figure of the Average Man

By Phillip Lopate 


In his memoir, An American Comedy (cowritten with Wesley W. Stout), Harold Lloyd asserts that while growing up “I was average and typical of the time and place.” He continues: “Supposing Atlantic City had been holding Average American Boy contests, with beauty waived, I might have been Master America most any year between 1893 and 1910.” This insistence was not random; it suited someone who doggedly set out to create a type on-screen as close as he could make it to an average specimen—a mirror image of the American audience. The fact that the man who said this was anything but average, a brilliantly gifted physical performer with a genius for constructing comic gags, who moreover understood the film medium with greater sophistication than all but a handful of his peers, speaks to both his modesty and his vanity. It also approaches the mystery of why audiences today may find it harder to connect with Harold Lloyd than they do with, say, Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. He embodied the spirit of the American dream that any average individual with gumption could attain success, an ideal that still seemed within reach in the twenties, before the Depression, Vietnam, and national disenchantment.

Chaplin flirted perennially with pathos, Keaton with melancholy, while Lloyd went his merry way, positive thinking and triumphant. “It’s the optimism,” wrote his defender Richard Griffith, “which chiefly sticks in the highbrow craw and accounts for the continued fundamental lack of interest in him and the continued rating of him below Chaplin, Keaton, and even [Harry] Langdon. Weltschmerz is hard to find in him . . .” And not just world-sorrow, but alienation of any sort. David Thomson gets it right, as usual: “Early clowns are all outsiders, men incapable of, or uninterested in, society’s scale of merit. Chaplin admits the scale but criticizes it. Langdon never notices it. Keaton is bewildered by it, the Marx Brothers know it is a lie, Laurel and Hardy believe it will never come their way. But Lloyd became the least deviant of comedians, a man who never dreamed of being out of the ordinary.” Still, this judgment needs to be complicated, because only a profoundly and uniquely imaginative artist—by definition, an outsider—can take on his shoulders the burden of synthesizing the entire society around him and fashioning an archetype from it that will play in Peoria. A lack of deviancy, moreover, does not account for the sheer inventiveness and pleasure that can still be found in abundance in Lloyd’s films, particularly his four best features, Grandma’s Boy (1922), Safety Last! (1923), The Freshman (1925), and Speedy (1928).

As good a place to start as any is Speedy. The title alone tips off Lloyd’s comic approach, which is to keep up a pace so rapid that no lingering sentimentality or sadness can attach. Fittingly, the film is set in New York City, where, the opening titles tell us, everyone is in such a rush. Whether or not the expression “a New York minute” was yet current, the idea that the city represented the forefront of hectic modernity already held sway. We see establishing shots of trains, tugboats, crowds all hurtling by. Eventually, we are brought to a slower neighborhood, where the most gradual and archaic of conveyances is introduced: a horse-drawn streetcar, driven by Pop Dillon (Bert Woodruff), the grandfather of Lloyd’s love interest, Jane (played winningly by Ann Christy).

At a very basic level, the film is about modes of transport, and its rhythm is largely dictated by many shots of people rushing via taxi, subway, streetcar, and motorcycle. It is also about an older way of being, a more traditionally communal, unhurried morality, in conflict with the new, headlong corporate capitalism that sprang up in the Gilded Age with the railroad barons and now seemed well-nigh unstoppable. The plot hinges, in fact, on a villainous railroad company that seeks to drive the old horsecar line out of business and take over its tracks.

The protagonist, also named Harold, and nicknamed Speedy, would appear to be in harmony with this burgeoning capitalist ethos: he is ambitious and in a hurry to succeed, the very prototype of “the aggressive bourgeois ego which George Santayana saw emerge in the industrializing U.S.—the go-getting American with no higher aim than diligent imitation of the rich . . .” (Pankaj Mishra). But because he is in love with Jane, and she with him, he ends up allying with Pop Dillon and his elderly neighbor-friends against the big shots. Lloyd’s character may be a go-getter, but he is also fundamentally decent and in sympathy with the little guys—his coworkers at the soda fountain and the small shopkeepers who come to his aid when the railroad company tries to seize the horsecar. A full-scale donnybrook occurs between the neighborhood geezers and the railroad thugs, and the point of it is that our hero needs all the help he can get from the People. A veteran uses a peg leg to his advantage. A Chinese laundryman applies his hot iron to the seats of the bad guys. (There is also a loyal dog that keeps coming to Speedy’s aid.) A sort of popular-front politics can be read into these scenes, which if nothing else celebrate the enduring values of neighborhood diversity and local community against the impersonal globalizing corporation.

Speedy is an urban variant of the “boy with the glasses” character that Lloyd had been painstakingly refining for years (and that very nickname had been used earlier for The Freshman’s protagonist). Lloyd had stumbled on the idea of giving his character a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles (lensless, since glass would becloud the eyes’ expression). The glasses were meant to signify a nerdy milquetoast type, from whom one would not expect much derring-do, and who would therefore pleasantly surprise the audience when he rose to heroic challenges. Speedy is given a few other characteristics, such as being unable to hold down a job because he is so obsessed with the Yankees (the cameo featuring a game Babe Ruth, who gets bounced around in Speedy’s cab, is a nice little eye-opener). But in general, we are asked to accept that Speedy is simply Youth in its most healthy, energetic, and accident-prone form.

Lloyd divided his movies into “character pictures” and “gag pictures”: The former, like Grandma’s Boy, took longer to set up the plot and had more psychological shadings. Speedy is decidedly a gag picture: the pace alone, with its wealth of sight jokes, dictated that there would not be enough time for much character development. In various sections, such as the long taxi-driving sequence, the gags flow outrageously yet organically into each other. “Lloyd was outstanding even among the master craftsmen at setting up a gag clearly, culminating and getting out of it deftly, and linking it smoothly to the next,” wrote James Agee. One extended sequence, Speedy’s date with Jane at Coney Island, may suffice as example.

It begins in the subway, with much pushing and shoving. In his memoir, Lloyd quips: “The Subway is a comedy all by itself, except to those who have to ride in it.” Again, we are treated to an ethnically and physiognomically diverse batch of New York humanity. Speedy contrives to get seats for his girl and himself by a trick involving a dollar bill on a string, which he dangles before a seated passenger to entice him to stand, then pulls away. A bit shady, unfair, not entirely what you’d expect from the supposedly proper Speedy, but—entrepreneurial, shall we say. At Luna Park, Speedy is the height of fatuous self-content, with his loving girl beside him and a week’s wages in his pocket, and a new white suit that makes him feel dressed for success. It does not take long for the suit to be marred, first by an overfriendly dog whose paws deface his trousers, then by his leaning against a freshly painted fence. Passersby laugh at the black bars on his jacket, and he has no idea why until he turns around and sees the pattern in a fun-house mirror. Next he passes a fish stand, and a crab lands in his pocket, leading to a set of mishaps in which the crab pinches ladies’ behinds and, in one case, steals a nightgown from a handbag. The women slap Speedy, thinking him a deviant masher, and he reacts with astonishment and self-righteousness. The humor here flows from the Lloyd character’s thinking he is an utterly normal, upstanding citizen, while those in his vicinity view him as a pervert. Here I am making the case that Lloyd’s comedy derives precisely from challenging his character’s assumptions of being the quintessence of average and normal.

Lloyd was a veteran of one- and two-reel comedies made for producer Hal Roach (Mack Sennett’s rival). It was a school that taught him to brainstorm ideas with story and gag writers but never to work from finished scripts, instead trusting to improvisation and inspiration on location for building elaborations on a gag onto a comic bit. “Our lack of method is deplorable, but somehow it works,” he testified. While he often directed parts of his pictures, he omitted taking directorial credit, preferring to help out the ex–gag writer designated for that job and perhaps feeling it was sufficient that the public knew the film reflected his own comic vision. Ted Wilde is listed as the director of Speedy, but the whole notion of auteurism seems a little spurious when it comes to silent comedy. By whatever collaborations the film came about, the result hangs together as a fresh, kinetic, fast-moving affair. The Coney Island sequence, for instance, has some beautiful cutaways to the fairway at night, some surreal dream swirls when Speedy and Jane are trying out every punishing ride, and a hysterical fantasy shot of twin babies with Harold-like spectacles riding in the moving van driving the couple home, which they pretend is their future abode.

By the film’s conclusion, Speedy has gotten his girl by saving Pop Dillon’s horsecar business, and all ends happily. In an interview with Lloyd long after he retired (he did not self-destruct, like many other silent film stars, but was a business-shrewd steward of his heritage), he was asked to compare Chaplin’s Tramp to his boy with glasses. “Well, Charlie generally had to play the losing lover because his character was the Little Tramp—who was a little grotesque. If he won the girl, she generally had to be off beat, a little screwy . . . But with this boy-with-the-glasses character—that was one of his virtues: he wore ordinary clothes, the same as the boy next door. He was somebody you’d pass on the street—and therefore his romances were believable. And I would say that I got the girl most every time. Generally, in many of Charlie’s pictures, he walked down the road at the end, which had its own virtue.”

We see in this passage Lloyd’s evenhanded sense of perspective, though his penultimate statement about getting the girl might strike some nowadays as a little smug. Still, as he said, each—Chaplin’s final saddening aloneness and his own cheerful romantic triumph—has its place. And Lloyd had a purer sense than most of what it meant to keep audiences laughing. He was a profound student of the art of comedy, as well as one of its most ebullient practitioners.

Phillip Lopate’s most recent books are Portrait Inside My Head and To Show and to Tell. He directs the nonfiction program at Columbia University.