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It’s no secret that Hollywood has always teemed with beefcakey heartthrobs, one for every feminine, and many a masculine, taste. Mild-mannered Canadian Ryan Gosling may rule Tumblr, his Hey Girl meme to be studied by archaeologists as yet unborn, but once upon a time in Los Angeles, the chief icon of masculinity came in a different form. A sleeker, meeker form, encased in three-button suits (swoon) and novelty sneakers and topped with non-ironic boaters and expressive eyebrows.
We speak, of course, of the heart-stopping maxi-macho mountain of virility who was Harold Lloyd.
Look, it was 1920. Pickings were slim, okay?
Lloyd possessed an effortless, unconscious attractiveness which seemed embedded in his very chemistry: whatever he did, charming. Whatever grimace he pulled, adorable. In fairness one should mention that baby had back, which is why Lloyd’s movies were never shy of tight pants and opportunities for rear views: the gratuitous ass shot was invented early in the City of the Angels.
One particular silent classic, a minor classic of the early rom-com genre is Haunted Spooks, a Hal Roach production that lasts no more than a half-hour. In that time, it hits all of the classic notes of the genre except possibly the “I’m 30 and I’ve given up” one, since at the time girls were married off at ages they couldn’t see a restricted movie at now.
The first three-quarters of the film are dedicated to frustrated, Gilligan-like suitor Lloyd in his fruitless quests first to marry a faithless heiress, then to end his life when he is unsuccessful. You know you’re a loser when you fail at suicide. He’s picked up in the act, fortuitously, by a lawyer desperately in search of husband material; his client will forfeit a large estate if she doesn’t claim it by midnight tonight, accompanied by her husband. As aforesaid client is a dim but amiable farm girl, and her lawyer seizes Lloyd and talks him into marrying the putative heiress.
Since the girl is pretty, easily manipulated, and apparently fond of men who wear tight pants well, that presents no difficulty on either side.
On to the Haunted Spooky part, in which an elderly relative and his wife attempt to frighten the “meddling kids” away by convincing them and the servants the house is haunted. Yes, you probably did see this on an old Scooby Doo show; classics come from classics, you know.
Several slaptastic moments of drapery-wrapped wraiths and levitating tables pass, leaving hero and heroine quaking in their boots but not yet suffering a wholesale loss of composure. Then, suddenly, an apparition more horrible, less explicable, and twenty times as gol-durn freaky as anything they’ve seen yet stumbles blindly, gropingly, into the hall. They turn. They see.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s often said of great actors that they can act down to their fingertips; make what you will of Mister Harold Lloyd and his incredible, character-acting hair.
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