A film with a simple premise enchanted me at the Egyptian Theater at this year’s TCMFF.
Harold Van Pelham, a rich hypochondriac sails off to an island paradise for his health. He travels with his nurse who watches him like a hawk and ensures he takes his pills every few minutes. Once in paradise, which in actuality turns out to be an island in South America that’s in the middle of a revolution, Van Pelham gets everything but rest and relaxation.
That’s the story depicted in WHY WORRY? (1923), a film directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, which stars Harold Lloyd and that turned out to be my gem discovery at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF). Co-starring with Lloyd in the picture, the last he made with producer Hal Roach, is Jobyna Ralston who plays the nurse. This is the first movie Ralston made with Lloyd, but she’d appear in five more films with the comedian after this one. Mentioned during the introduction of the screening was the fact that before WHY WORRY? Lloyd’s leading lady in fourteen films had been Mildred Davis who retired just prior to the making of this movie to become Mrs. Harold Lloyd.
The other major role, in WHY WORRY? – Colosso – is played by John Aasen, a giant of a man whose movie career was born with the huge success of this picture. Aasen appeared in several more films until 1936, but was never able to match the impact he made with this movie.
So, as the story goes, soon after his arrival in the fictitious South American country Harold Van Pelham gets arrested just as the civil war is heating up. His cellmate is Colosso whose brute strength proves useful to Van Pelham in executing his escape. Indebted to Harold, Colosso becomes his constant companion and together they beat off the rebels and win the revolution by way of one hilarious scene after another.
WHY WORRY? features many gags I’d never seen before and although it’s common knowledge that Lloyd’s athleticism is the stuff of legend, I was blown away by him in this movie. I’m anything but an expert in silent film but this is as funny a movie as I’ve ever seen. I laughed from the moment it started to the end credits and I’m surprised I don’t hear much about it.
My favorite scenes – gems among gems – are the ones during which Harold tries to extract Colosso’s aching tooth. He eventually succeeds, giving the big man yet another reason for total devotion to his new friend and savior.
I’ve no doubt I’d enjoy watching WHY WORRY? on its own at any time anywhere, but watching it for the first time at the TCMFF was outstanding. Of course, that’s what this festival is for – outstanding film experiences.
Present at the screening of the film was Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd who works relentlessly to preserve her grandfather’s work. Ms. Lloyd was introduced by Leonard Maltin and their pre-screening exchange included details of the work put forth to restore this film and the excitement about the world premier of Carl Davis’ new score for the film, which we were about to hear. – live with Davis conducting a full orchestra The score, by the way, is absolutely fantastic. This was one of those experiences that brought watching a film to a whole new level.
After watching WHY WORRY? on Friday evening, Day Two of the TCMFF I didn’t stop talking about it for the rest of the weekend. Of the three popular silent clowns, Harold Lloyd is the one whose work I am least familiar with having seen only another film he made in 1923, his most popular work, SAFETY LAST and a few shorts. Now I want to see every movie he ever made. So…
What an extraordinary talent! And another gift brought to me thanks to TCMFF and being a classics fan. Despite my life-long love of the movies the fact that I can still be so thrilled at being introduced to new films is a gift that keeps on giving – one recognized and appreciated only by other fans of classic film.
On a final note, although I can’t claim to know the intricacies or work involved with the preservation of film, I have to raise my hat to all those who work tirelessly to ensure artistic endeavors such as WHY WORRY? remain available for audiences to enjoy for generations. Film is our greatest art form and as such it deserves the care and reverence given at events and venues like those made available at TCMFF.
If you’ve not seen WHY WORRY? by the way, note that it is scheduled to air on TCM on May 15 at 8 pm Eastern. Trust me when I say you must set your DVR if you won’t be home that day.
All images of this TCMFF screening courtesy of TCM.