The Kid Brother (1927)

Film Review

THE KID BROTHER

Release Date: 17 January 1927

Studio: Harold Lloyd Corporation

Directors: Ted Wilde, J.A. Howe

Actors: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Walter James, Leo Willis, Olin Francis, Eddie Boland, Constantine Romanoff, Frank Lanning, Ralph Yearsly

Story: John Grey, Ted Wilde, Thomas Crizer; Scenario: John Grey, Lex Neal, Howard Green

Cinematographer: Walter Lundin

Synopsis

Hickory men are tall, muscular and strong, except for Harold (Lloyd), who, short and thin, is dwarfed by his father, County Sheriff Jim (James), and older brothers, Leo (Willis) and Olin (Francis). While Jim and his older sons cut and move timber, Harold does the family laundry. Jim’s shirt blows away and Harold chases after it. He follows the shirt into the front yard of his nemesis, Hank Hooper (Yearsly), the son of the next door neighbors. Hank thinks the shirt belongs to him and pursues Harold for it. Hank and Harold are fighting in the Hickory front yard until Jim and Sam Hooper, Hank’s father, separate them. Sam Hooper (Lanning) shares his son’s enmity toward the Hickory clan.

Later, Sheriff Jim (wearing the retrieved shirt) and his older sons go to a town meeting. Jim orders Harold to stay home and wash the dishes. At the meeting, the townsmen give Jim their money intended for the construction of a new dam. Sam Hooper hints that the Sheriff is not to be trusted with the money, but nobody pays any attention to him.

While his father and brothers are at the meeting, Harold puts on his father’s vest and admires himself wearing the sheriff’s badge. A medicine wagon, manned by Mary Powers (Ralston), the daughter of the deceased medicine man, her father’s partner "Flash" Farrell (Boland), and handyman Sandoni (Romanoff), arrives at the door. Flash talks Harold, whom Flash identifies as the sheriff, into signing a permit for their show.

The next day, Mary, discontented with her participation in the medicine show and pensively walking through the woods, is pursued by Sandoni who wishes to kiss her. Running away, she runs into Harold who picks up a small branch to defend her. The branch has a snake attached to it, and Sandoni, frightened, retreats rapidly. Harold is surprised that he has chased off the much larger man until he realizes that a snake is wrapped around the stick. Mary thanks Harold, and they are immediately attracted to one another. As Mary walks back to the show wagon, Harold climbs higher and higher up a tree in order to wave goodbye as long as possible.

That night, Sheriff Hickory learns that Harold gave the medicine show a permit. The sheriff orders his son to shut down the performance. At the medicine show, Mary is dancing for the crowd. Flash tricks Harold and ties him to the wagon. The sheriff arrives and angrily interrupts the performance. Harold is freed. Flash objects to stopping the show. In the resultant confusion, a lantern is upended and sets fire to the medicine wagon. It burns to the ground. A sudden thunderstorm puts out the remaining fire.

Harold takes Mary, now stranded, to his home. His brothers, sitting around in their nightshirts, have to hide when Mary enters the house. Mrs Hooper sees Mary in the Hickory home, and demands that she come to the Hooper home where another woman is present. Mary goes with her.

The town is celebrating the funding of the dam. To the consternation of Hank, Mary goes with Harold. While everybody is at the celebration, Flash and Sandoni break into the Hickory home and steal the money. Sheriff Hickory discovers the empty strong box. The townsmen are concerned, and Sam Hooper accuses the Sheriff of theft. The Sheriff tells his sons to find Flash and Sandoni who he accuses of stealing the money. The older brothers go looking for the robbers, but Harold is not allowed to go with them.

The townsmen are agitated and accuse Mary of complicity in the theft. Harold tries to stop them from taking hold of her. Hank Hooper hits Harold with a club, throws the unconscious Harold into a rowboat, and pushes it off down the river. The townsmen are threatening violence against the Sheriff when his older sons return without Flash and Sandoni.

The unconscious Harold floats to a derelict ship. As he regains consciousness, Harold sees the monkey of Sandoni on the deck railing. He climbs aboard. In a cabin, Flash and Sandoni are counting the money. Flash tries to hold out on Sandoni, they fight, and Flash is killed. Harold, attempting to stay hidden, gather ups the money. Sandoni sees him and chases Harold around deck and through the ship. As he throws Harold to the floor, Sandoni loses his balance and falls into a pool of water. Unable to swim, Sandoni struggles in the water. Harold jumps in after him, and they sink. Bubbles rise. Finally, Harold surfaces dragging the unconscious Sandoni. Harold races home with Sandoni and the money.

The sheriff’s friends in town have turned against him, and Hooper Sr is leading the angry crowd. Harold arrives as the men are marching his father to a horrible fate. He gives them the money. His relieved father salutes Harold as a true Hickory. Mary embraces him. As a wrap up, Harold takes on Hank, bests him, and walks off with Mary, arm in arm.

Discussion

This unusual Lloyd film includes a more complex and serious plot than is typical of his movies. The rural setting is also unusual, Lloyd generally playing a city boy. In each film, his character is one of two alternate personas: in one persona, Lloyd plays a wealthy, self-assured clubman who lacks direction and ambition; in the second persona, he plays a shy, unassuming, naive, young fella. Harold Hickory is a good example of the innocent, girl-shy character, while Harold Van Pelham from Why Worry? (1923) is an example of the wealthy, directionless character. In every film, the plot, especially during the rush-to-the-rescue sequence that concludes most of his silent features, provides opportunities to demonstrate Lloyd’s mastery of physical comedy and his athletic skill.

The Kid Brother is a male version of the Cinderella story. Lloyd, the drudge of his family, lacks the size and strength of his father and brothers and is ordered about by all of them. The contrast of Lloyd’s height (5'10") and wiry build to the dimensions of the actors playing the father and brothers (all taller than 6’) is stressed throughout the film. In a farm setting where large size and strength are beneficial, Lloyd’s slight build seems particularly unfavorable. His family mistakes Harold’s youth, innocence and small size as evidence of ineptitude. Of course, given the opportunity Harold proves himself to be capable, resolute, and courageous.

In the funny and sweet love story, Harold and Mary fall in love instantly. This was Jobyna Ralston’s final film with Lloyd. Ralston, a talented comic actress, matched perfectly with Lloyd and brought a good deal of warmth and sweetness to their six films together.

The film contains many gags, especially during his comic bouts with adversarial neighbor Hank Hooper. A funny scene involves Harold bringing Mary home after the medicine wagon burns up. His discomfited brothers, sitting around in their night shirts, hide. Harold steers Mary toward them, and they have to scuttle from place to place, attempting to keep out of her sight. Harold’s chasing off big and mean Sandoni with a snake dangling on a stick is a weak gag.

Unlike the villains in most Lloyd films, these men are not comic. Hooper Sr., angry and resentful, is not a funny character. Flash and Sandoni, thieves, argue over the distribution of the stolen money, and Sandoni murders Flash. The battle between Harold and Sandoni has many comic aspects but is a fight to the death for Harold who is thrown about by his much larger and stronger opponent. After Harold and Sandoni disappear into the pool, the audience is kept in suspense as bubbles ominously rise from the murky depths. Finally, the tension is broken, and Harold surfaces dragging the defeated Sandoni.

At the exciting finale, the dire situation of his father, accused of theft and threatened with lynching, adds urgency to Harold’s overcoming Sandoni and bringing him home quickly. He utilizes several modes of transportation, including a boat and horse and wagon. The danger to the sheriff adds a grim element that is immediately dropped once the sheriff is saved. Harold and Mary are happy, and the audience must forget the near lynching.

For a coda, Harold’s defeat of his comic adversary, Hank Hooper, rounds off the story perfectly.

Constantine Romanoff (1881-1969), whose birth name was Friedrich Meyer, migrated from Germany around 1905. After a few years as a professional wrestler, he settled in Los Angeles and went into the movies. From 1921 until 1951, he appeared in numerous films, mostly in uncredited roles, in which his large size and threatening visage made him a useful convict, pirate, thug or villainous henchman. He makes a formidable opponent for Lloyd in The Kid Brother. Romanoff has a comic role as a reformed gangster in Lloyd’s For Heaven’s Sake (1926) and small, uncredited parts in several of Lloyd’s talkies.

The Kid Brother is listed among our Great American Films, 1921-1930.

References

Constantine Romanoff Biography. by Jimmy Wheeler. Professional Wrestling Historical Society. updated January 26, 2016. prowrestlinghistoricalsociety.com