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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.11%
Worth A Look: 22.22%
Just Average66.67%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 0%

1 review, 3 user ratings

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Welcome Danger
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by Jay Seaver

"Portrait of a film industry in transition."
3 stars

"Welcome Danger" is kind of a mess, as I expect many films were in 1929. The addition of sound to movies was a major change in the entertainment industry that happened almost overnight; the explosive growth of DVD and music downloads has nothing on how the talkies more or less killed silent film. A number of silent films such as "Welcome Danger" were reworked to include sound, and as such are not complete successes either as silents or sound films.

This was an ambitious movie to begin with; one cut screened for test audiences ran three hours. At nearly two hours, it's still one of the longest films Lloyd made, if not the longest. The plot is also relatively complex compared to the average silent comedy; while many of Lloyd's silents could be broken up into pieces and had scant few characters beyond Harold and whatever girl he was wooing, Welcome Danger thrusts young botanist Harold Bledsoe into an investigation of a series of murders and other crimes taking place in Chinatown, all masterminded by a mysterious tong leader known as "The Dragon". He's brought in because the late Bledsoe Sr. was San Francsico's police chief, and the current chief figures the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Harold turns out to be almost useless, though; he doesn't even know about fingerprints until he arrives at the police station, and then he gets on everybody's nerves by fingerprinting everybody, including (and especially) the cops. Still, he does meet a girl, Billie Lee (Barbara Kent), whose little brother Buddy has one of those mysterious movie illnesses. You know, the kind that show no obvious symptoms and can apparently only be treated by Dr. Chang Gow (James Wang), who has been targeted by The Dragon.

The version screened at the Brattle during the "Films of Harold Lloyd" series was a "newly discovered silent version". This is not, apparently, the original version shot by director Michael St. Clair - that version is probably lost forever, even though Lloyd and his family were uncommonly diligent about preserving Lloyd's films. Instead, it's the extensively-reshot (by director Clyde Bruckman) version that was released with sound, except with intertitles instead of an actual soundtrack (though sound caught on quickly, not all theaters had upgraded when the film was released). The result is a peculiar hybrid, with some scenes probably closer to their original intended feel, while others feel somewhat stilted. It seems likely that either existing version of the movie would seem compromised, although I won't know for sure until the DVD arrives.

For all that, there is a fair amount of good in this movie. Harold's and Billie's meet-cute is very cute indeed: An instant photo machine malfunctions and combines their photos, and when Harold actually sees Billie on the side of the road trying to fix her broken-down car, her sexually ambiguous nickname and the bulky coveralls she's wearing lead him to believe that she's a boy. He, of course, fabricates a whole pack of lies about his girlfriend in the picture, and she's mischievous enough to play along. Even wearing loose coveralls and with her hair tucked away, Ms. Kent is far too cute for there to be any doubt about her characters's femininity, so any delusions we may have about Harold being much of a detective are put to rest early, and we get some pretty decent slapstick out of it. There's plenty of comedy to be mined from Harold making an ass of himself, too, and it establishes Billie's mischeivous personality.

(It's interesting to look at the evolution of Lloyd's female leads over time - after marrying Mildred Davis, he replaced her youthful, kind of naive blonde characters with the more mature and demure brunettes played by Jobyna Ralston, and after she moved on, he again went for a different kind of chemistry, favoring co-conspirators like Ms.Kent's Billie Jean or Ann Cristy's character in Speedy, anticipating the strong leading ladies of the 1930s. Many stars who'd had Lloyd's extraordinary success might have tried to stick to what had worked for them in the past, but He was willing to mix things up a bit.)

Another impressive bit is the sequence when Harold and Officer Clancy (Noah Young), who trusts in him even when the rest of the department has written "the little finger-prince" off, stumble onto The Dragon's hidden lair, a crazy network of secret passages, trap doors, and some kind of cult chamber existing below Chinatown. It's gigantic and kind of absurd; it must go down ten hidden levels. And, of course, once they get separated, there's fun mistaken identity stuff (if you consider being knocked unconscious fun) as both Harold and Clancy disguise themselves in Chinese robes to blend in.

Unfortunately, these two sequences are offset by how dreadful some early sound filmmaking can be. Exposition often takes too long because the audience and filmmakers are too excited by the very idea of talking to demand or deliver a snappy, well-played scene rather than just two people telling each other things. Stationary microphones result in scenes being awkwardly staged, and the rapid-fire visual gags of the silent era are reduced in favor of dialogue that is not yet being used effectively. The story, while longer and more involved than some of Lloyd's earlier films, is still simpler than the two hours it takes to unfold, so the movie drags. I barely want to imagine the original three-hour cut!

Indeed, coming out of this movie, I was most curious about the original, lost, silent version, wondering which bits originally came from that and which were added for sound. My suspicion, of course, is that the good comedy bits were there all along, while the plot-heavy stuff came with the sound, but I of haven't done the necessary research to know this. Still, it often seems like Welcome Danger is stretched too thin - most of the material for a good silent movie mixed with filler.

That doesn't make it not worth seeing - indeed, it would be interesting just as a curiosity, and has material that elevates it well above that level - but does knock the interest level down a notch. Most of the Harold Lloyd movies I've seen, I'll easily recommend to anyone; this one is of much more interest to those interested in the history of the medium, and seeing the kind of transition it went through in the late twenties and early thirties.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12462&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/07/05 18:38:28
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User Comments

3/13/10 Mark I've seen the silent and the talkie version. The silent is far superior and actually good. 4 stars
8/07/09 Valerie We laughed a lot, it was so bad and so good! LLoyd and Young were very funny. 4 stars
3/16/08 Welcome Danger (1929) with Harold Lloyd Top:eg a 2 min sequence in complete darkness makes you laugh like crazy! Awesome comedy! 5 stars
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