The Kid Brother

Studio: The Criterion Collection

Mar 20, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

The third son from a respected family of manly-men, wiry little Harold (Harold Lloyd) clearly stepped out from the wrong end of the gene pool. This tender-hearted screw-up possesses neither the strong will of his town sheriff father, or the physical imposingness of his brutish older brothers. An easy pushover, Harold is pressured by a traveling conman to sign his permit, allowing the wily shyster to set up his medicine show in the middle of Hickoryville. While the snake oil salesmen set up shop, Harold meets – and becomes smitten with – the medicine show’s pretty, young dancer, Mary (Jobyna Ralston), who believes he’s the town’s famous, hero sheriff.

The bulk of Harold Lloyd’s heart-warming 1927 feature, The Kid Brother, plays like an unexpectedly contemporary-feeling romantic comedy. Harold woos the mild Mary, innocently perpetuating her misassumption over his identity. But, he mostly avoids the beatings of an overgrown bully neighbor and his own brothers, not through toughness, but quick thinking. Lloyd has always been the most relatable of the three silent giants – the others being Chaplin and Keaton – and this down-trodden black sheep of the family is among the most sympathetic of his characters. Harold wants to win the heart of the presumably out-of-his-league dancer, but more so he wants to earn the respect of his macho father.

The movie shifts gears for its final act, which takes place (rather randomly) on an abandoned pirate ship. Harold accidentally stumbles upon the hideout of the hucksters who’ve made off with the town’s money. In a prolonged series of setpieces which last nearly a quarter of the film’s runtime, Harold is pitted against the biggest, scariest goon he’s faced yet. Using practically every loose object within arm’s reach, Harold somehow manages to not only avoid being murdered, but save the day for the entire town. These 15 minutes hold the movie’s loudest laughs, spinning some surprisingly tense action into a number of really clever visual gags. (The sequence also stars perhaps the funniest monkey in movie history, who steals every scene it’s in.)

The Kid Brother arrives on Criterion Blu-ray with a fantastic-looking restoration for a 92-year-old film alongside the viewer’s choice of two different musical scores. The extra features are incredibly varied, including somewhat expected (but always welcome) things like an audio commentary, a pair of early Harold Lloyd shorts, and an archival TV interview with the actor, as well as a few outside-the-box docs. “Close to Home” is an exhaustively detailed video essay about the filming locations in the Hollywood Hills – many of which were part of other famous films, and are now part of a large cemetery. There’s also a discussion of the Wurlitzer organ used to compose so many silent movie scores, and a 2005 featurette about Lloyd’s palatial estate, which is something like an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous (and Deceased). It’s a great bunch of bonus materials for an undeniably sweet film, earning this release of The Kid Brother a high recommendation for any fan of early Hollywood.



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