(director/writer: Clyde Bruckman; screenwriters: Felix Adle/Lex Neal/Paul Girard Smith; cinematographers: Henry N. Kohler/Walter Lundin; editors: Bernard W. Burton/Carl Himm; music: Constantin Bakaleinikoff; cast: Harold Lloyd (Harold Bledsoe), Barbara Kent (Billie Lee), Noah Young (Officer Patrick Clancy SFPD), Charles Middleton (John Thorne/The Dragon), Will Walling (Captain Walton SFPD 3rd Div.), Douglas Haig (Buddy Lee), James Wang (Dr. Chang Gow), Blue Washington (Thorne’s Black Servant-Henchman), Edgar Kennedy (Desk Sergeant SFPD); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Harold Lloyd; Paramount; 1929)
“This is not the film to catch the talented Lloyd do his stuff.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Originally filmed as a silent feature directed by Malcolm St. Clair but re-shot for sound release as directed by Clyde Bruckman. It’s co-written with Bruckman, Felix Adler, Lex Neal, and Paul Girard Smith (dialogue). Upon general release its three hour length was cut to 115 minutes.
The legendary bespectacled star of silents Harold Lloyd (“Safety Last”/”Speedy”) plays an enthusiastic Boston botanist Harold Bledsoe. He comes by train to San Francisco after being summoned by police Captain Walton (Will Walling), who hopes the son is as good a cop as his deceased father and will put an end to the opium problem plaguing the city’s Chinatown district. To throw the police off him as a suspect the leading citizen John Thorne (Charles Middleton) has called for reform, but he’s secretly the Chinatown gang leader running the drug ring and is known as the “Dragon.”
On his way West, the nerdy botanist meets on-the-cute Billie Lee (Barbara Kent) and her little brother Buddy (Douglas Haig). He falls in love with her without even meeting when a faulty photo coin-slot machine at the train station superimposes her photo on his. Then when he misses his train, he gets a ride in her jalopy. After losing contact, they meet again in San Francisco. I must say, the romance was tiresome.
Harold goes sleuthing in Chinatown after the baddies when the cops think he’s an annoying bumbler and give him the fingerprints of Thorne and jokingly tell him that’s the Dragon’s fingerprints just to get rid of him. In Chinatown Harold gets into numerous scrapes with Officer Clancy (Noah Young) by his side and eventually learns that the joke is true, as they search a warehouse and have to watch out for trapdoors and a cellar. In the end, Harold proves he’s not such a jerk.
Most skits didn’t work; they lost the edge they might have had as a silent. There’s also an inexcusable racism. Lloyd says of the Chinese “they all look alike,” while he’s hunting down a suspect. The comedian seems a bit too mean-spirited and self-absorbed to be that likeable. Also from hunger was the dialogue, the film’s pacing (probably caused by the film being re-shot), the unwieldy narrative and most of the sight gags. The legendary comic, compared to Chaplin and Keaton in his prime, was on the decline and this film was the proof. This is not the film to catch the talented Lloyd do his stuff.
REVIEWED ON 4/21/2006 GRADE: C