#38. The Kid Brother (1927)

The Kid Brother is a very funny movie starring a guy I’d never heard of but who apparently completes a famous trinity of silent-era comedians: first there’s Keaton, then Chaplin, and then this guy, Harold Lloyd, whose charm is the typical silent-comedy sory — he’s a kindhearted and scrawny underdog — but hard to pull off. He does it well.

There’s this scene where Lloyd, who plays the nebbish kid brother of the reputable Hickory family (his dad’s the sheriff), accidentally burns down the carriage of a traveling medicine show. The carriage is owned by a young woman named Mary (Jobyna Ralston) who inherited the business from her dad. Lives and works and travels out of that carriage. Feeling remorseful, charitable and horny, Harold (Lloyd) invites her to sleep at the house he shares with his brothers and father. Here we get a long and really funny scene in which Harold’s trying to get her situated in the house while his father sleeps, and while his brothers hide. And it reminded me of this time when I was seventeen years old and planned, with my then-girlfriend, to have her spend the night at my house, while my parents were home just down the hall, without anybody finding out. This was the plan:

  1. Her folks would drop her off at my house at noon under the pretext that, come 8 pm., I’d drop her off at her friend’s house for a sleepover. Her parents would pick her up from that friend’s house in the morning.
  2. My own parents had dinner plans that night. My girlfriend would be at my house when they left, sitting about as she normally might, and then hiding in my room when they returned. I’d tell my folks that I’d taken her to that friend’s place.
  3. Finally, we’d wake up before dawn and I’d drive her to the friend’s house, where her parents would pick her up a few hours later.

kid brother hiding

It worked. We sat up whispering all night, slept for maybe thirty minutes, and then, a little after five in the morning, left for breakfast at the IHOP near my house. I remember that she doused her crepe with Tobasco sauce, and drank steaming black coffee in unflinching gulps, and that the dipping sauce that came with her crepe was an opaque yellow paste that we played with, mixing it with different syrups and packeted grains, and after the meal I drove her to her friend’s house, both of us bleary-eyed, and when I got back home the sun was recently risen and my parents were still asleep, the dogs unstirred, and when I got back into bed I thought about what we’d done. I’d always been so afraid of breaking rules, of disappointing my parents by doing anything even remotely transgressive, and but here, having gone ahead and done something mildly transgressive, I realized that nobody’d gotten hurt. I’d had a great time. It was a big step twoard realizing that there’s growth and good times to be had outside the bounds of my parents’ approval. It was an interesting memory to stumble upon so vividly while watching this movie about a guy who tries desperately to win his family’s approval.

3 comments

  • It is curious that Lloyd has been practically forgotten. I wonder it he will eventually be rediscovered as Keaton did in the sixties.
    If the Book had allowed a second entry I would have suggested Safety Last which is a funnier and more iconic movie than The Kid Brother.

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    • It really is bizarre! Especially given the iconography of SAFETY LAST, as you say. I’m not sure if he’ll ever enjoy the kind of resurgence that Keaton did, cuz Keaton was at least alive to pop up on talk shows here and there. People who’d grown up with his work were able to see his face again, and it prompted them to share it with their kids. Did you see Bogdanovich’s wonderful documentary about him from a couple years ago?

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  • Yes, I actually watched it only last week. I was able to stream it off Danish television. It was a super interesting documentary, though a bit strange in structure. His ten or so major works were covered back to back in the last half hour, at a time where I was seriously dosing off.

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