SIN OF HAROLD DIDDLEBOCK, THE (aka: Mad Wednesday) (director/writer: Preston Sturges; cinematographer: Robert Pittack; editors: Stuart Gilmore/Thomas Neff; music: Werner R. Heymann; cast: Harold Lloyd (Harold Diddlebock), Frances Ramsden (Frances Otis), Jimmy Conlin (Wormy), Raymond Walburn (E.J. Waggleberry), Franklin Pangborn (Formfit Franklin), Edgar Kennedy (Jake, Bartender), Lionel Stander (Max), Rudy Vallee (Lynn Sargent), Arline Judge (Manicurist), Jack Norton (James R. Smoke), Frank Moran (Mike the cop), Margaret Hamilton (Flora); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Howard Hughes/Preston Sturges; Allied Artists; 1947)
“… it’s saved by a few inspired flashes of comedy sprinkled throughout.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Preston Sturges (“Unfaithfully Yours”/”The Palm Beach Story”/”Christmas in July”) left Paramount to team up with eccentric millionaire producer Howard Hughes for their short-lived partnership that ended in bitterness, as Hughes cut the film to ribbons (from 89 to 78 minutes) and re-released it three years later under the title Mad Wednesday. Sturges talked Harold Lloyd out of retirement for this 1947 talkie comedy, and the two legendary cinematic artists after a good start had a fallout over artistic decisions. It was Lloyd’s last film. The film never had a chance, though it’s not quite the bomb first thought. This re-release in its original length restores the fine qualities taken out by the scissors.
It picks up by showing footage from the last reel of Lloyd’s silent 1923 classic The Freshman, where Harold Diddlebock (Harold Lloyd) is the bumbling freshman waterboy who scores the winning touchdown for his college football team. It then segues to zany top NYC ad agency boss E.J. Waggleberry (Raymond Walburn) hiring Harold, the football star he can’t even remember he offered a job to, four years later in 1923. Waggleberry starts go-getter college grad Harold, who is fond of using platitudes, at the bottom as a clerk in a small bookkeeper’s office and twenty-two years later the mild-mannered and now middle-aged Harold is forgotten by the firm and still working as a lowly bookkeeper when he’s fired on Wednesday by Waggleberry for having no drive and setting a poor example for the new employees. Before getting his retirement gift of a Swiss watch and collecting his life savings, he confesses to young office artist, Miss Frances Otis (Frances Ramsden), that he’s in love with her like he was with her seven sisters who worked for the firm previously and gives her an engagement ring in case he should find success in the near future.
The fun starts when Harold walks the streets that morning after being canned and is sporting a roll of a couple of thousand bucks when a racetrack tout called the Worm (Jimmy Conlin) hustles some money to make a bet and then induces Harold to take his first alcoholic drink ever–a special cocktail mixed up by the local bartender Jake (Edgar Kennedy). This brings out the animal in Harold and he goes on a wild tear, buying a loud suit and betting a grand on a long-shot nag. The horse wins and instead of getting his dough, the drunken Harold now owns a hansom cab and a bankrupt circus. This leads to him walking around Wall Street with one of the tame circus lions, Jackie, on a leash, in order to get bankers to invest in his bold idea for a free circus for children so they can improve their public image. Harold also gets walked on a leash by the lion, while he dangles from the ledge of an office building (merely a lame repeat of the same stunt he did in Safety Last). Naturally his lunatic scheme works, and Harold sells the circus for $175,000 to the Ringling Brothers circus, gets re-hired as an ad executive by Waggleberry and marries the much younger Frances.
Though overall the comedy felt flat and was plagued with missteps, there’s still a sense of the tragic over a decent middle-aged man losing his job. It’s poignantly presented in a sympathetic manner and, furthermore, it’s saved by a few inspired flashes of comedy sprinkled throughout.
REVIEWED ON 8/21/2006 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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