Tag Archives: Harold Lloyd

Bill Irwin, The Actor All The Actors Know

 

Every once in a very long time an actor comes around that is so good at what he/she does that they make it look like anyone can do it. They make it look easy. Effortless. Add-to-that, an unassuming and quiet demeanor and you get an actor that feels like he’s a part of the scenery.  Like, he comes naturally with the set design, that he just becomes fused in that world.  Meaning, you forget that he’s an actor. You take for granted that he’s really the characters he plays and that he is integrated into the story as a permanent fixture.  I’m not so sure this is coming across as intended…

Regardless, one of these such actors, would undeniably be the phenomenal, Mr. Bill Irwin. He first came across my radar in the live action version of Popeye in 1980. He is a very gifted physical comedian, albeit, 50 years too late. He really has the same physical gifts that made Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and those early comedians so good. You can see it in Popeye right away. In fact, he reminded me most of Stan Laurel.

He has an extensive background in theatre and still does a lot of theatre work regularly, but he also can be seen on TV and in the movies every year, even though you may not know him by name. In 1989, was nominated for four Tony Awards for “Largely New York“: as author of a Best Play nominee, Best Actor (Play), Best Director (Play) and, with collaborator Kimi Okada, Best Choreographer. In 1999, his show “Fool Moon” won a Special Tony Award for Live Theatrical Presentation. Won the 2005 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play, for his performance as George in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” opposite Kathleen Turner.

In TV and Film, he’s starred in some great projects over the years, including: My Blue Heaven, Hot Shots!, Northern Exposure, 3rd Rock From The Sun, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Elmo’s World, Lady in the Water, Sesame Street, The Good Wife, CSI, Blue Bloods, Sleepy Hollow, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and most recently on FX’s new show, Legion. Can’t recommend him enough, he’s brilliant. He can often be found as his clown alter ego, Bagatelles, along with partner David Shriner.  Check out some of these videos on You Tube. It’s no surprise that he graduated from Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus’s Clown College and eventually was inducted in the International Clown Hall of Fame in 1999.

Bringing Up Baby, What’s Up, Doc?

 

These are two of my favorite films of all time, and the saddest thing is that no-one seems to know about them!  I mention them to people and no-one has ever watched the films.  They’ve been overlooked and forgotten over time.

Peter Bogdanovich, being a huge film fan, loved the screwball comedies of old.  A very good example of this type of film is Bringing Up Baby (1938) which has 5 main elements that make for a very successful screwball comedy; Cary Grant, the bumbling absentminded professor type, Katherine Hepburn, the smart crafty and manipulative woman that wants the Cary Grant character to fall in love with her at all costs, the object the Cary Grant character is after, in this case, a dinosaur bone, this is where number four comes in, the giant mix-up (helps to have a dog and leopard for this) and then last is very fast dialogue.whts up baby

This formula has been repeated multiple times since and soon after developed it’s own genre within comedy, the screwball.  I would argue that this wasn’t the first screwball comedy, Twentieth Century (1934) may have been first, but I’m not entirely sure if all the elements were in place.  I will give credit to figuring out the formula to Howard Hawks, who really seemed to be great at putting together the right elements, just think about how he changed the Hildy Johnson role in the play The Front Page into a woman (Hildebrand turned into Hildegard) instead of a man and turned it into another fantastic film, His Girl Friday (1940) as an example of truly how good he was at it.  I’m giving credit to the term screwball comedy due to the fact that to even be considered to be a so-called “screwball comedy” director Howard Hawks thought there couldn’t be any “normal” people in the movie, and that everyone had to be a “screwball.”

Now, let me take the opportunity to say that these elements are my opinion, but to me, seemed to be the five elements that make for a successful screwball comedy. If a screwball comedy is missing one of these items, it can still be a screwball but will be less successful.

All these elements are in What’s Up, Doc? and it’s no surprise that the title even includes “up” in both movies.  The bumbling absent-minded professor is Ryan O’Neal, Barbra Streisand is the smart crafty manipulative woman, the object Ryan is after is a suitcase full of igneous rocks, the mix-up includes 3 other identical suitcases that include secret documents, diamonds, or just plain clothes, and finally it also has the incredibly fast dialogue.whats-up-doc-cinema-lobby-card

As a side note, Barbra Streisand has gone on record to say she didn’t get this movie at all and thought the comedy wouldn’t work, she said she never knew what was really going on.  She said recently, “I was just a hired actress on that film. Just following orders.” Which is truly a shame, because I think she was brilliant in this movie and really is a natural at comedy!  Her instincts are dead on and she could have had a huge career in the comedy genre, but since she always felt a little awkward in the genre, concentrated on drama and thus we only have her in a handful of comedies.  I think she could have rivaled Lucille Ball at comedy if she would have decided to go that way early on in her career.  Not to say it hurt her at all, she’s a fantastic dramatic actor as well, I just wish we had more comedies from her.whats streisand

It’s interesting to me that Katherine Hepburn had a similar experience on her film, Bringing Up Baby.  She initially was so bad at comedy it drove Howard Hawkes crazy.  They brought several people in to help her with her comedic timing, including Walter Catlett and even silent film comedian Harold Lloyd.  She was a very fast learner, although, and Howard Hawks grew to respect Katharine Hepburn tremendously for her comic timing, ad-libbing skills and physical control. He would tell the press, “She has an amazing body – like a boxer. It’s hard for her to make a wrong turn. She’s always in perfect balance. She has that beautiful coordination that allows you to stop and make a turn and never fall off balance. This gives her an amazing sense of timing. I’ve never seen a girl that had that odd rhythm and control.”whats katherine

As for Ryan O’Neal, his character being inspired by the stuffy professor played by Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby, Ryan O’Neal had a chance to meet and speak with Grant. They had a great time talking, but the only advice he received in shooting the movie was to wear silk underpants.  Both Grant’s and O’Neal’s characters were visually modeled after the silent film comedian Harold Lloyd. Another interesting note is Christopher Reeve based his performance as Clark Kent in four “Superman” movies on Cary Grant’s “David Huxley” from Bringing Up Baby, so you can make an argument that Clark Kent is also Harold Lloyd.whats ryan oneal

whats cary grantThe final chase scene, an idea they had because of the one from the then recent movie Bullitt (1968) which was also filmed in San Francisco, cost $1 million to shoot (a quarter of the total budget), 19 days to shoot requiring 32 stuntmen resulting in 11 minutes of screen time. The segment with the giant pane of glass alone took four or five days to film. The plate glass bit was filmed at the junction of Balboa and 23rd Avenue in San Francisco’s Richmond District.whats car

The fender bender Judy causes as she crosses the street to the Bristol Hotel was added on the spur of the moment. When no stunt cars were available, Peter Bogdanovich instructed a crew member to rent two cars and make sure he got collision insurance. Then he staged the wreck before returning the battered cars.  If you see the moment in the film, it’s actually really scary to think how close they could have come to hitting Barbra, if they were just off by a few seconds.whats car2

This film has been given recognition as the first American film to have the stunt people listed in the credits at the end of the movie (the first film over all to have done this is the British movie, Moonraker).  I’m not sure if this is entirely correct, as the stunt people over the years have just been given different credits as actors or such, but as for the actual “Stunts” credit, this may be true.

Now for the initial releases of these movies, Bringing Up Baby, was an unmitigated flop, going so far as to have Katherine Hepburn branded “Box Office Poison” the next year, but has since gained a following and made it’s money back.  It’s now considered by many to be Howard Hawk’s best film.  What’s Up, Doc? itself, was incredibly successful the year it was released, coming in third to The Godfather and The Poseidon Adventure, but sadly has been virtually forgotten over time.

Things to look up on IMDB:

  • Howard Hawks
  • Peter Bogdanovich
  • Katherine Hepburn
  • Cary Grant
  • Barbra Streisand
  • Ryan O’Neal
  • Harold Lloyd
  • Walter Catlett
  • Bringing Up Baby
  • What’s Up, Doc?
  • His Girl Friday

Best Stunts of the Year List 1920-1929

 

Here is the list for the Best Movie Stunts for the Decade 1920-1929 as listed in the book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

1920:  The Mark of Zorro

First time on the list for Zorro (not the last), and for Douglas Fairbanks.  The Mark of Zorro represents the first in a line of Adventure films and Douglas Fairbanks was technically the first swashbuckler, an adventure actor that does a lot of the stunts himself.  He was an incredible athlete, by all accounts, and this film showcases that ability very nicely.zorro 2

1921:  Never Weaken

Harvey Parry admitted on his death bed that he doubled Harold Lloyd on some of the stunts in this movie.  This comedy movie would make way for all the dangerous slapstick comedies to come by Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton.never tumblr_njqmx6K3Gr1rdfgw4o1_500

1922:  Robin Hood

Great example of Douglas Fairbanks at the top of his game, but in this case he’s helped out by his stunt double, Charles Lewis in several stunts.  This is also the first time Robin Hood makes the list (also, not the last) and it’s interesting to me that several movies hit the list multiple times.  You’d expect that with movie series like James Bond, being highly stunt driven, but still seems like a surprise when it’s just different versions of the same movie, like Robin Hood and Zorro.robin-hood

1923:  Safety Last!

The second half of this film, where he is climbing up each floor of a building is sheer brilliance.  It’s nerve-wracking!  The final few moments hanging from the clock is as iconic a film moment as you get.  It’s a single-solitary slice of film that represents everything that being a stunt performer is all about.  This would be the poster boy for the stunt movement.  In fact, this should be the award they give out at the Academy Awards for Stunts, a Golden Statue of Harold Lloyd hanging from a clock tower.safety last

1924:  Sherlock, Jr.

This is the period where Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton keep out-doing each other every film.  But, I will add, that this particular film is just about my favorite stunt film of all time.  It would definitely be in the top ten for best stunts of all time, it’s that great.  Buster Keaton not only blows your mind with the stunts in this film, but it’s also an incredible film cinematically and some of the techniques he develops with this film are revolutionary.sherlock buster

1925:  The Prince of Pep

This was where Richard Talmadge was trying to be an actor, but he soon found out that his talents lay with Stunt work.  He goes on to be a fantastic Stunt Man and Stunt Coordinator in the years to come. In this one, he has a nifty gag where he jumps from the rooftop of one building through the window of the next building.  He makes it look easy.pep2

1926:  The Devil Horse

Yakima Canutt is generally thought of as the grand-daddy of all stuntmen…not that he actually gave birth to all of them, just that he was a big reason why stunt work has legitimized as much as it is right now. He developed techniques for safety and paved the way for most of the stunt men to work behind the camera as an action director or second unit director and as a stunt coordinator.  In this film he shows his early chops as a rodeo star as he rides the devil horse, Rex.yakima captured

1927:  Wings

This film won the first Academy Award for Best Picture, but thanks to Dick Grace, has some great flying stunts in it as well.  No-one crashed a plane on cue better than he did.

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1928:  Steamboat Bill, Jr.

Another great film from Buster Keaton.  This one is another one of those iconic images that help to propel the whole stunt world forward, an amazing stunt, where Buster just stands in one spot as the whole front of the building falls around him.  Could have easily killed him if he was just a little bit off his mark.  Great stunt.Steamboat bill Jr

1929:  Tarzan the Tiger

Every wonder where Tarzan got his signature yell and signature swing from tree to tree from?  Yep, from this movie.  They used it in every Tarzan movie after that.  Frank Merrill was very athletic and did all his stunts in a skimpy loin-cloth.tarzan07

For more information about these stunt performers and these movies, including a lot of great trivia, please look for their chapters in the new movie stunt book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Harold Lloyd and Safety Last!

 

This entry is for the clock hang, which is always mentioned when people discuss early movie stunts of the silver screen. It’s amazing to note that Lloyd performs the stunt with only eight fingers, having lost two just a few years before, when a prop bomb exploded in his hand. I’ve heard several times that sometimes stunts are not fully planned out before hand. Jackie Chan certainly comes to mind, as someone who loves to explore the set during production to see if he and his stunt team can come up with gags. Harold Lloyd did this on Safety Last!.Safety last stunt

Harold said, “…we did the final scenes of that climb(clock tower) first. We didn’t know what we were going to have for the beginning of it. We hadn’t made up the opening and after we found that we had, in our opinion, a very, very good thrill sequence, something that was going to be popular and bring in a few shekels, we went back and figured out what we would do for a beginning, and then worked on up to what we already had.” A stuntman had verified after Lloyd’s death that Lloyd performed the majority of the stunts himself on the rigged facade over a small platform, which was built near the rooftop’s edge and still had to be raised a great height to get the proper street perspective for the camera. The size of the platform did not offer much of a safety net, and had Lloyd fallen, there was the risk he could have tumbled off the platform. Lloyd first tested the safety precautions for the clock stunt by dropping a dummy onto the mattress below. The dummy bounced off and plummeted to the street below.

lloyd-safety-last
Photoplay in the July 1923 issue, by writer Adela Rogers St. Johns.

Safety Last! was directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor for Hal Roach Studios. Interestingly enough, the film Back to the Future pays homage to the Harold Lloyd “dangling from the skyscraper” by having one of the film’s stars Christopher Lloyd (no relation to Harold) hang from a clock tower as part of the plot. The dangling scene was also referenced earlier in the film during the pan of Doc Brown’s (Christopher Lloyd’s character) laboratory as a picture is shown featuring Lloyd hanging from a clock tower. In addition, a meta-reference appears in the opening scene of Back to the Future, in the form of a physical table clock which depicts the Safety Last! scene.

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB):

Glossary of film terms as defined by Wikipedia:

  1.  Facade – A facade is generally one exterior side of a building, usually, but not always, the front. The word comes from the French language, literally meaning “frontage” or “face”.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Harvey Parry and Never Weaken

 

Harold Lloyd was said to have done all his own stunts, and that is mostly true, except for this notable entry. Harvey Parry, one of the pioneering stuntman, admitted after Lloyd’s death that he doubled for him in the most dangerous stunts in this movie and several others. Harvey said of performing stunts during the silent film era, “It was taboo in those days to say, “I doubled Harold Lloyd or “He doubled Douglas Fairbanks” because the public believed they did their own work. I doubled Harold Lloyd–who couldn’t stand heights–and he gave me every precaution I wanted in climbing buildings and so forth. The only thing I could not have was publicity.”never tumblr_njqmx6K3Gr1rdfgw4o1_500

When asked how stuntmen were hired in those days, Harvey said, “The casting director or somebody would come out and say, “Anybody wanna make $10?” They [the stunt men] never said, “What have we got to do?” They said, “Yes, I will”. The guy that was chosen would have to jump off a building, So he jumped. If he made it, fine. If he didn’t, he got free room and board in the hospital for a while.” Harvey was still doing stunts in his eighties before he died of a heart attack in 1985. Harvey was thought of to have taken part in over 600 movies as stunt double or stunt man, and is usually uncredited on IMDB, but was known to have doubled for James Cagney, Peter Lorre, George Raft and Humphrey Bogart.

 never cagney-parry_opt
Harvey Parry and James Cagney

Never Weaken was directed by Fred C. Newmeyer for Hal Roach Studios and was Harold Lloyd’d last short film. He managed to perfect his “thrill comedy” formula in this film and used it to great effect in his features, especially Safety Last in 1923 (more on that later, hint hint). Harold was brilliant at humanizing moments and then taking the audience to extremes. He once said, “The spectacle of a fat man slipping on an icy sidewalk never fails to get a laugh. The same is true of a man attempting to drive a nail and mashing his finger in the process, or a man with his arms full of bundles attempting to keep his hat from blowing off. These things are funny because they have happened to all of us and probably will happen again. They are trying experiences for the individuals involved and we sympathize with them. But we laugh, nevertheless because they are human touches.” Never Lloyd, Harold (Never Weaken)_02

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB ):

Glossary of stunt terms as defined by Wikipedia:

  1.  Visual Gag – In comedy, a visual gagor sight gagis anything which conveys its humor visually, often without words being used at all. The gag may involve a physical impossibility or an unexpected occurrence. The humor is caused by alternative interpretations of the going-ons. Visual gags are used in magic, plays, and acting on television / movies.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM