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Why Worry (1923)

Film Review

WHY WORRY

Release Date: 9 September, 1923

Studio: Hal Roach Studios

Directors: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor

Starring: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Johan Aasen, James Mason, Wallace Howe, Leo White

Story: Sam Taylor. Story Assistants: Ted Wild and Tim Whelan

Cinematography: Walter Lundin

Special Notes: TCM Classic Film Festival, 2014

Why Worry was shown as part of the Special Presentations theme at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival, and featured the world premier of Carl Davis' score for the film. The guest speakers were Suzanne Lloyd, granddaughter of Harold Lloyd, and Leonard Maltin, author, critic and film historian.

Synopsis

Wealthy hypochondriac Harold Van Pelham (Lloyd), continually checking his heart and taking pills, travels with his nurse (Ralston) and valet (Howe) to a tropical island, “Paradiso”, for his health. The island is anything but a paradise. Renegade James H. Blake (Mason) has organized the riff-raff of the island into a revolutionary army attacking the soldiers of the legal government. Harold is so consumed with his supposed illnesses that he doesn’t realize a revolution is occurring until he gets thrown into jail.

Also in the cell is Colosso (Aasen) who is suffering from a toothache. Colosso removes the bars, and they escape. Harold pulls out the tooth (with great difficulty), and he and Colosso attack the revolutionaries. Between attacks, Harold checks his heart and swallows his pills.

The nurse and the valet have been hiding; Harold finds his nurse disguised as a boy. Blake also finds her, and Harold is so enraged when Blake lays hold of her, he attacks and beats him senseless. Harold eludes the revolutionaries and in a series of lightning maneuvers attacks and beats up The Mighty Herculeo (White), the number two man of the revolution. Harold deposits Herculeo with Blake in a pile of debris, permanently out of action. To cure Harold’s constant pill taking, the nurse tells Colosso that Harold is sick and must take his pills frequently. Harold, Colosso, and the nurse trick an approaching revolutionary army into thinking that a large government army is attacking them. The revolutionaries run away, and the revolution is ended. In the midst of this action, Colosso periodically forces a pill down Harold. After a few doses, Harold declares that he is finished taking pills. They all sail for home. One year later, Harold has become a high-powered businessman, the valet works for his business, and Harold and the nurse have a newborn son. Racing home to see his child, Harold stops to tell Colosso, a traffic cop at a busy corner, and they sprint to Harold’s home.

Discussion

The scenario centers on hypochondriac Lloyd amid the chaos of a revolution. Surrounded by threatening revolutionaries, Lloyd digresses to monitor his heart and take his pills. The friendly giant adds another comic element. The plot builds slowly as Lloyd meets and aids Colosso, realizes a revolution is occurring, and takes on the revolutionaries. A series of comic incidents are built around the giant: getting out of jail, taking out his (very large) tooth, using him as a gun carriage. Colosso searches for Harold's nurse, coming back with increasing numbers of women of all ages, finally carrying several on his back and pulling a tethered group. The relationship between Harold and Colosso is respectful and sweet as they quickly become fond of each other. Colosso's gratitude for the tooth extraction is touching. Defending his nurse from Blake puts Lloyd into frantic action pounding Blake senseless. He also races around thumping Herculeo. Amid this action, he stops to take his pills. The cure for his pill taking is to take them repeatedly and under duress. Colosso jerks the unwilling Harold around and shoves the pills down him, amusingly, and effectively, curing his hypochondria.

The settings are the typical comic opera concept of a Latin American village, small balconied houses lining the unpaved streets that are occupied by foot traffic and donkey carts. Men wears sombreros, loose blouses, dark pants; women wear headscarves, blouses, loose skirts. Government soldiers dress in 18th century-style uniforms; the revolutionaries, lacking uniforms, sport bandoliers. Harold stands out in a suit and straw hat.

Lloyd’s character in a film was generally one of two alternate personas: a shy, unassuming, naïve, simple young fella, very likable and trusting, rather afraid of girls; or a wealthy, fairly self-assured clubman, lacking direction and ambition. The rich, self –assured Harold appears in Why Worry.

Most silent comedians were fine athletes. Without the ability to say funny things, the comic had to do funny things, often involving a lot of jumping around, falling over, spinning, somersaulting, and hanging off buildings or trees. Lloyd’s character registers strongly even in the midst of manic comic activities. Lloyd projects his cheerful, considerate, and sensitive personality even as he jumps over barrels, falls off walls, and hangs from windows.

In February 1923, Lloyd married Mildred Davis the co-star of his first four feature films, and she retired. He needed a new leading lady. Ralston, who had been in films since 1919 and had made over three dozen short comedies with James Parrott, was young, cute, experienced, and already on the Hal Roach lot. She made six films with Lloyd of which Why Worry was the first. Ralston enhances their films with her sweetness, charm, beauty, and comic skills. She made a few films in the late twenties, but only three talkies, and faded out of pictures by 1931.

Aasen, probably over 8’ tall, suffered from "gigantism", a condition of greatly enlarged body stature resulting from the production of excess growth hormone in childhood. By age 25, he was being promoted by a small Midwestern circus as a "giant, the tallest man in the world". After the sudden death of George Auger, known as the Cardiff Giant, the first man signed for Why Worry, Aasen was found from a newspaper story about a Wisconsin shoe factory making shoes for the biggest feet in the US. After Why Worry, Aasen made several shorts for the Hal Roach Studios including Long Fliv the King (1926) with Charley Chase and Should Married Men Go Home (1928) with Laurel and Hardy. Not surprisingly, he frequently played a circus giant, including an uncredited role in Freaks (1932). His filmography lists 15 films (1923-1936).

A thin face, long, pointed nose, close-set eyes, and small dark mustache gave Mason a rather sinister appearance; he plays a typical character as the lecherous leader of the revolution. He appears as a gangster in Lloyd's For Heaven's Sake (1926). Born in Paris, Mason lacked acting experience when he immigrated to America at age 20, in 1909. That same year, he made his first film, The Great Train Robbery (different from the famous 1905 film), produced by Vitagraph. He played a villain in dozens of silent westerns and continued his career in dozens of talkie westerns, often as one of the uncredited barflies.

Cinematographer Lundin worked with a succession of comedians. He lensed many Lloyd films in the twenties including Safety Last (1923) and The Freshman (1925). In the thirties he filmed Laurel and Hardy; in the forties he worked mostly on Our Gang shorts at MGM. His technique was straightforward; point the camera at the comic while he did his stuff and periodically get the camera into the face of the comedian during a short pause in a stunt.

Guest Introduction

Suzanne Lloyd and Leonard Maltin discussed the film:

• Harold Lloyd had always taken care of his films and carefully preserved them. He did not want them shown on television. Suzanne Lloyd, his granddaughter, is now the keeper of his films.

• Lloyd had been working for the Hal Roach Studio; Why Worry, his fifth feature, was his last film for the Studio. Lloyd left Roach and his next film (Girl Shy 1924) was made for his own studio (at the corner of Santa Monica and Los Palmas, now in the heart of Hollywood).

• Lloyd had married his leading lady, Mildred Davis, and he had a new leading lady, the very pretty and appealing Jobyna Ralston.

• The climax of many Lloyd films features an athletic Lloyd saving the girl in some situation, in this film it’s in a revolution-torn town in South America.

• The film required a giant; the first person hired, from the circus, died on the train to Hollywood. The second giant, Johan Aasen, was found in Minnesota from an article in the newspaper.

Leonard Maltin, Suzanne Lloyd

References

Lloyd’s Giant. Variety, January 12, 1923

Johan Aasen, Norwegian Giant. Official Johan Aasen Web Site, accessed February 2015. johanaasen.com

James Mason. Talent From 30 Nations. Variety. August 22, 1928