Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Doctor Jack (1922)

Harold Lloyd as Dr. Jack, with a monkey

A lot of people don't remember (or, considering that pretty much none of us were alive at the time, never knew) that there was a third slapstick comedian of the silent era who, if not of the same caliber artistically as Chaplin and Keaton, was far more successful financially. I'm talking, of course, of Harold Lloyd, the gangly, bespectacled man-boy who always seemed to be tripping over his own feet and yet, when push came to shove, could scale the side of an twelve floor department store with the best of them. Lloyd's movies were so successful that although he was virtually retired by 1935, he was still able to comfortably live out his remaining thirty-six years in quiet retirement at his Hollywood mansion, complete with 44 bedrooms, 26 bathrooms, and a nine-hole golf course. Not a bad life, eh?

Lloyd's films may not have the soul of Chaplin or the technical innovation of Keaton, but they are damn funny. I am reminded, watching Doctor Jack, that some films are too dangerous to watch while eating, unless you have a paramedic handy to jump in when you start to choke. I wouldn't recommend Dr. Jack, however, the kindly country doctor that is the hero of this film, as his medical philosophy seems to revolve around the virtues of fresh air, exercise, and not too much medicine. The film opens with his morning rounds, where he dispenses kindness and advice to all and sundry, and in which the only patient who seems to be genuinely sick is a child's doll that fell in the well. Dr. Jack arrives in time for emergency first aid, however, and it looks like she's going to pull through.

His medicine-without-medicine technique is given its first real challenge in the case of The Sick Little Well Girl (played by Mildred Davis, who was Lloyd's leading lady in the majority of his films until he married her in 1923), a pampered rich girl who may or may not have had a cold several years ago, for which she is still being treated with bucketfuls of medicine lest she suffer a relapse, or her parents decide that keeping a full-time doctor on retainer is an unnecessary expense. This eminent physician, Dr. Von Saulsburg, is confident in his ability, if not to cure her illness, then at least to make sure that her parents don't realize she probably never had one in the first place.

Against Dr. Von Saulsburg's stern warnings, SLWG's parents call in a consulting physician in the form of our Dr. Jack, although once he arrives, medicine seems to be the last thing on the good doctor's mind. That's perfectly fine, because SLWG doesn't need it, whereas an adoring lover may be just what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately for this budding doctor/patient relationship, it doesn't take long for SLWG's parents to offer to send Dr. Jack packing due to his blatant lack of professionalism, but it's late so he'll have to spend the night. This gives him approximately eight hours to "heal" SLWG and win her heart in the bargain.

Humpy Logan, escaped madman

Conveniently, right at this moment one of the servants rushes in to announce the news that a crazed lunatic named "Humpy Logan" (I swear, I couldn't make this stuff up) has escaped from the local asylum and is on a murderous rampage. This gives the doctor an idea. SLWG has always been sheltered and protected, so maybe a little excitement will do her good. He throws together a makeshift costume and proceeds to terrorize the household as the escaped lunatic. Wild chase scenes and utter hilarity ensue as Humpy chases SLWG and her parents and even his own alter ego Dr. Jack all over the house and grounds. How many times is it still funny to watch the poor old butler fall down the stairs? The world may never know. Oh well, if he needs a chiropractor, I think Dr. Von Saulsburg has an opening.

Harold Lloyd making googly eyes at Mildred Davis, The Sick Little Well Girl

Lloyd plays all his trumps in this one, those treasured comic chestnuts that somehow never lose their appeal: a monkey in people clothes, a dog tearing a chunk out of the backside of a man's pants, and a wild case of mistaken identity second to none. With SLWG's future happiness at stake, there's no room for error, and no time to waste. After all, he's only got 60 minutes, ahem, I mean all night, to undo the harm caused by the best medicine money can buy.

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