While all matters of taste are purely subjective, it seems like people react to the personas of popular comedians with an even greater degree of idiosyncrasy than usually applies to the arts overall. How many people simply can't stand Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell, and find it impossible enjoy anything they do because of their very presence? Unlike dramatic actors, many of whom prize themselves on their versatility, or "disappearing into" roles, comedy stars tend to zero in on a specific type and play it, with the occasional twist, throughout most of their career. Usually this comic persona extends organically from an existing facet of their personality, which makes it exceedingly difficult for an audience to separate the comic actor from the comic part, provoking those individuals who are put off by their presence to reject it outright. My own reaction to Harold Lloyd is not quite so dramatic, but, compared to his silent comedy peers, I find his persona so unconvincing that it severely dampens my enjoyment of his well-worked gags.
In Girl Shy, Lloyd stars as Harold, a poor young man so intimidated by women that their presence induces in him debilitating attacks of stuttering. In Harold's fantasy life, however, he is a skilled Casanova, full of romantic tricks tailored to win the hearts of different types of girls — tricks that Harold has compiled into a book, which he hopes to have published. On his way to the city with his manuscript, Harold meets and falls for a rich girl (Jobyna Ralston), but feels like he cannot pursue her unless his book is a success.
Girl Shy is the third Harold Lloyd movie that I've seen in the last year or so. Lloyd's SAFETY LAST! was assigned as part of February's chapter of the Potluck Film Fest, and I thought that the awe-inspiring stunts in its final act made up for a critical flaw in Lloyd's comic persona: its inauthenticity. Lloyd's characters in The Freshman, Safety Last! and Girl Shy are essentially the same: hapless dolts with misguided plans who persist through one failure after another until they result in success. Where Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton fully inhabited their characters to become icons of desperation and resilience, Lloyd neither looks nor acts the part of the heel; he just is because it's what the script demands. He is so normal-looking, so blandly unphased, or passively confident, or mildly perturbed, that his routines come off as loser-appropriation, like the most popular guy in school disingenuously trafficking in self-deprecating humor.
Safety Last! had such a dynamite final sequence that it virtually knocked out all prior complaints, but Girl Shy's finale, while amusing and full of neat, difficult and surely dangerous stunts, is not spectacular enough to overcome the essential problem of Harold Lloyd just being himself. There's a nice touch of sweetness that I don't recall from the other two films of his that I've seen, and part of that is down to the appeal of Ralston, as well as that of Nola Dolberg and Judy King as his fantasy conquests. There are other nice casting touches, such as using a few strikingly oddball "Our Gang" kids in small roles, and occasionally Lloyd throws in an inspiredly absurd or weird gag, like Harold being carried away by a large turtle, or made uncomfortable by the presences of suckling piglets and naked children. However, Lloyd simply doesn't have a comic persona in which I invest any hope or emotion, or who surmounts real obstacles with deep reserves of charm, heroism or unique cleverness. He's not off-putting, or annoying; he's just kind of there, which makes his comedy produce a low yield for me.
Girl Shy was brought to the Potluck Film Fest by Jandy Hardesty. She ranks it on her Flickchart at #120/3979 (97%), where it's her 7th favorite Silent Film out of a staggering 335 (see Jandy's "Chrono Watch" Project for some background on this number). It ranked on my Flickchart at #1961 (51%), making it #21 out of the 27 Silent Films on my Flickchart.