Criterion are finally coming to UK shores and this can only be regarded as a great thing
Gee, Babe, you've done more for baseball than cheese has for SwitzerlandHarold Lloyd, most famous for his ‘Glasses' character, was a huge star of the silent era and is held in the same regard as the likes of Keaton and Chaplin. His ‘Glasses’ creation in the early twenties was an instant hit, playing with slapstick, madcap stunts (many of which he did himself), wild and unruly narratives but always with a sense of pathos and a good, warm heart that was endearing to a Depression era audience. Indeed, the character is instantly recognisable and has some of the most iconic scenes in film history – hanging from the clock face in Safety Last! being just one. Speedy was to be his last silent film and it capitalised on many of the elements that made him a star culminating in one of the most fraught and frantic chases ever committed to film – seriously! The story is of a fly-by-night dreamer, who is more interested in baseball than holding down a job - Harold ‘Speedy’ Swift intends to marry his sweetheart, if only he can get his head out of the clouds; but when he stumbles upon a dastardly plan to rob his father-in-law to-be's horse-drawn tram business (the last in New York) he sets out to put things right. That single sentence sums up the plot of the film, but it is actually the third act of the film. The first is about a disastrous trip to Coney Island where Harold tries in vein to keep his new suit clean.The second sees Harold as a cab driver unsuccessfully touting for business until he transports his idle, Yankees baseball superstar, Babe Ruth (in a cameo role), to the stadium. This three act narrative would later be adopted as filmic norm, but here it is still quite clunky as if these are three separate stories knitted together. This is especially true for the first act, which has little or nothing to do with any of the plot, and is closest in tone to Lloyd's early shorts. However the film grammar is still strong and there is some wondrous location shooting and superlative editing (not just for the action but for seamlessly integrating LA streets for NY) as well as cinematographic elegance to the framing (see picture write up for examples). Unlike Chaplin whose films haven’t aged particularly well, Lloyd’s have managed to remain quite relevant and enjoyable and Speedy is right up there as one of the best. I am conscious, however, that modern audiences may find little to enjoy; you do need an appreciation of the type humour and the character to get the most out of it, but I have to add that the climactic chase is not only absolutely thrilling but contains some incredible filming techniques as well, rivalling modern cinema – and, of course, it all wraps up very nicely in the end.
Picture QualityThe disc presents theatrically correct fullscreen 1.33:1 aspect ratio with a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec and is region locked to B. It is worth noting that this is the same release as the USA Criterion disc only coded to region B.
The restoration afforded to this title is nothing short of miraculous, Criterion’s 4K scan of the best surviving elements have meant that there is a wealth of detail, depth and greyscale to this image that would otherwise be lost. Detail, such as the New York establishing shots, clothing weaves, skin texture (apart from Speedy himself, due to the excessive make-up of the character) and set dressing hold clean, clear edges, showing off terrific intricacies. This is probably best highlighted in the first act, where Speedy is trying to keep his suit clean.
The restoration afforded to this title is nothing short of miraculous.
Brightness and contrast are set to give a wonderfully dense greyscale that almost reaches black, this adds tremendously to the depth of frame (there is a superb shot near the beginning that looks through the horse drawn tram showcasing some real, almost 3D pop and depth) whilst maintaining detail in the whites (no clipping in the skyline). There are two scenes that use tints to show off night light and night time (ochre and blue respectively) that are themselves clean and strong.
Digitally there are no compression issues or edge enhancement, while the original print, for its age, is in remarkable nick. Now you have to expect some damage, and there is, you should also expect some brightness/density fluctuations, and there are some, but what it does have is an absolutely stable frame. The disc is presented at 24 fps, which is somewhat faster than how it was originally filmed (16-18 usually) however Criterion has timed the film to be as it was originally shown so there are no speed issues with the action. Excellent stuff.
Sound QualityJust the one track: LPCM 2.0 stereo. The soundtrack has been timed and restored (under the composer Carl Davis’ supervision) and is absolutely pristine, with no background noise whatsoever. The dynamic range is good with bass helping to fill out the lower end while the higher fidelity never goes shrill or tinny. Stereo effects are well placed and separation is well realised. The inter-title cards are easy to read and hang around for just the right amount of time.
Audio Commentary – Bruce Goldstein (Director of Repertory Programming at New York's Film Forum) and Scott McGee (Director of Program Production at Turner Classic Movies) discuss the film with enthusiasm and reverence covering such topics as New York's evolving (or not) landscape, casting, a little ‘where are they now’ regarding many of the principle payers in the film, how Lloyd cultivated his image and the tremendous editing of the film, amongst others.
In the Footsteps of Speedy – Half hour documentary headed up by Bruce Goldstein as he talks about the locations used to film some of the key sequences of the film.
Babe Ruth – A forty minute feature covering the career of this most famous player, his appearance in the film via newsreel footage, presented by scholar David Filipi (Director of Film and Video at Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University).
Video Essay - Bruce Goldstein narrates a collection still images of deleted scenes.
Home Movies – Lloyd had a huge collection of home movies, a small (twenty minute) selection is presented here from the time that Speedy was being made and is narrated by his granddaughter Suzane Lloyd.
Bumping into Broadway – A short from 1919, newly restored, and included here because of its New York setting, the only other title from Lloyd to do so.
Blu-ray VerdictSpeedy was Twenties movie icon Harold Lloyd’s final silent film. Having captivated audiences with his ‘Glasses' character during the early part of the decade, it is no surprise to find him still holding the reins years later. The film, split into three distinct acts, is the story of Speedy taking on the mob to help his girlfriend’s grandfather hold onto the last horse drawn tram car in New York and the madcap adventures that that entails.
Cue various wild stunts, a little pathos and plenty of slapstick, not to mention one of the most incredible chases across town ever committed to film (I’m not kidding) and you have the makings of a classic. The years have been pretty kind to Lloyd's character, unlike Keaton and Chaplin, with some of the most iconic images (hanging from the clock face in Safety Last! being just one), but some still might find this one challenging. It plays much like it is; three shorts hung around a loose premise with only Lloyd himself pulling the narrative along. For fans it stands high in regard, new audiences, I hope, will appreciate what it stand for.
You can’t get any better recommendation than a Criterion release!
As a Blu-ray release, you can’t get any better recommendation than a Criterion release; they have heaped their love and care on this disc and it pays dividends. The 4K restored picture is a revelation, with strong greyscale, a very stable image with good detail and depth. The sound too is absolutely clean, clear with good stereo separation and range. The extras also compliment the feature and are all licenced to Criterion alone.
The film itself may not be one of the best known, but it hails a momentous time - Criterion are finally coming to UK (Region B) shores and this can only be regarded as a great thing.
You can buy Speedy on Blu-ray here
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.