100 Years Ago Today: Harold Lloyd’s First Feature, The Original “Grandma’s Boy”


Huzzah! Today is the 100th anniversary of the release date of Harold Lloyd’s first feature length film: Grandma’s Boy (1922).

Good for Harold, you say, but what’s the got to do with me? Well, one could make a pretty good argument for Grandma’s Boy being the first real comedy feature. Naturally there had been numerous feature length “straight comedies” (comedies with little or no slapstick) by this point starring the likes of Douglas Fairbanks, Roscoe Arbuckle, et al. And Chaplin had made The Kid the previous year, but there are those who might argue that the sentimentality at the heart of that tale makes it more of a Dickensian style comedy-drama. But Lloyd’s movies (all of them) play like what we still think of as Hollywood comedies. In fact, many of them are what I would show to a skeptical contemporary person who assumes silent comedy is not for them, for they play very much like contemporary movies. I’d go so far as to say they are recognizable as the template, much more so than the films of either Chaplin or Keaton.

Like Chaplin’s The Kid, Grandma’s Boy’s running time is only about an hour, by the way. That was deemed to be feature length in those days, and must have seemed that way given that in the early days the movies had been ten minutes long. Lloyd, like Chaplin, worked his way to feature length gradually, expanding to comedies that ran 20 minutes, to 30, to 40, and then features. I’d argue that many comedy features of the sound era by the likes of Wheeler and Woolsey, Joe E. Brown, Abbott and Costello, the Three Stooges and others would be much better if you trimmed them down to an hour (and got rid of the romantic subplots).

Grandma’s Boy has what I call the Dumbo plot: meek, cowardly Harold is given a special witch charm by his Grandmother (Anna Townsend) to make him invincible. As long as he has the charm with him, he can lick anyone in a fight. The rub is it’s actually an umbrella handle, a placebo. He’s actually had the right stuff in him all along, he just didn’t know it. At the picture’s climax, he clocks the bully who’s been dogging him all through the picture, and hurls him down a well. And of course wins the girl (Mildred Davis) by his exertions.

As for the 2006 movie of the same name? Haven’t seen it yet.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy movies like Harold Lloyd’s Grandma’s Boy please check out my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.  



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.