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Awkward Silent: Turning Down the Volume on a Lloyd Talkie

Film Forum's Harold Lloyd retro winds up with a present for fans of the bespectacled slapstick star—a newly discovered and restored silent version of Lloyd's first talkie, Welcome Danger (1929). Lloyd plays a fanatical botanist and inveterate buttinsky who has been hired by the San Francisco police department under the misapprehension that he's a chip off the block of his legendary police chief father. Mistaken identity rules, but not really. Welcome Danger was nearly completed when Lloyd decided to leap aboard the talkie train. He scrapped his footage and reshot with sound (as well as made this second silent version for unwired theaters). Perhaps this accounts for the movie's distracted quality, which contributes to the waning of the star's charm. From Grandma's Boy (1922) on, Lloyd's persona was that of the comic go-getter. Nerdy yet suave, he typically played his own straight man. In Welcome Danger however, he appears less single-minded than self-absorbed, even unpleasantly so in his tiresome meet-cute with love interest Barbara Kent (the star of P Fej 's brilliant 1928 partial talkie Lonesome).

Although never as magical as Buster Keaton (but who is?), Lloyd was essentially a comic action hero. Welcome Danger 's second half, set in a casually offensive Chinatown of trapdoors, tong wars, and opium fumes, is full of entertaining scrapes—and even odd intimations of Kung Fu Hustle. Lloyd doesn't execute many stunts, but he does demonstrate his dexterity. When a hooker waiting to be booked flirtatiously drops her handkerchief, he sticks out his foot to make an interception and, without the slightest excess motion, flips the fluttering hankie back into her lap. It's the sort of gesture for which silent cinema was made, and it in itself redeems Welcome Danger.

 
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