Today is the anniversary of the original release date of Harold Lloyd‘s last feature The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (later retitled Mad Wednesday), directed by Preston Sturges.
For this 1947 film Sturges persuaded Lloyd to come out of retirement nine years after completing his last film, to recreate his role from his 1925 hit comedy The Freshman. The Freshman had ended with Harold’s character winning the big college football game, plus the girl. Presumably he has a bright future ahead of him. Sturges’s surprising conceit is that, twenty years later, Harold is not the go-getter we all projected he’d be, but an obscure clerk in a go-nowhere career. As the film opens, he is fired from even that dead-end job for his lack of drive and ambition. Despondent, he steps into a dive, where bartender Edgar Kennedy gives him his first drink. The resulting drunk sends Harold out on a spree the likes of which will be the making of him. While drunk, he uses his life savings to buy a circus. When he learns that the big top is struggling he causes citywide commotion by bringing a lion with to meet with bankers. The climax on the upper story ledge of a skyscraper is a tribute to Lloyd’s many “thrill comedies” featuring similar scenes, notably Safety Last.
Lloyd is surprisingly terrific in the film for someone who hadn’t been before the cameras in almost a decade. In some early flashback scenes he convincingly plays himself at age 20, though he himself is 50 years old. The film is also a Who’s Who of great character comedians of the era including Rudy Vallee, Frankling Pangborn, Lionel Stander, Margaret Hamilton, Jack Norton, Julius Tannen, Jimmy Conlin, etc.
Unfortunately, producer Howard Hughes pulled it from circulation shortly after its release, shot new scenes and re-cut it, re-releasing it in 1950 under the terrible title Mad Wednesday. It didn’t do well in either released version. The version I watched surely must have been after Hughes’s tampering, for it seemed somewhat choppy, lacking the perfect shape of Sturges’s earlier comedies from the 40, more resembling the odd assembly Hughes’s had given his own movies like The Outlaw. Even with this mutilation and its checkered history, I think the movie deserves enhanced status as a classic, and is an extremely fitting final film statement for Lloyd, so everyone should see it.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc. To find out about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.