The 1928 comedy classic “Speedy” is officially known as clown genius Harold Lloyd’s last silent film. But was it really?
His 1929 comedy “Welcome Danger” began filming as a silent, but Lloyd realized during production that sound wasn’t just a fad, it was more along the lines of a cinematic revolution. So he revamped the story, changed casts and directors, and shot two versions.
Theaters that weren’t yet equipped for sound saw the silent version. But the “talkie” version became one of Lloyd’s highest-grossing films because audiences were eager to hear the popular silent comedian talk for the first time. Over the decades that followed, the silent version of “Welcome Danger” became a forgotten curio until it was restored a few years ago by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Both versions of the comedy screen for the first time back-to-back tonight at the Billy Wilder Theater.
Though “Welcome Danger” in both forms is rather minor Lloyd, the silent version actually works far better than the talkie.
“Lloyd has an annoying quality about him in the sound version -- he is not the Harold we know,” says Jere Guldin, film preservationist for the UCLA archive. Guldin preserved the silent version, which played recently at the UCLA preservation festival. UCLA’s Robert Gitt had restored the talkie several years earlier.
“Welcome Danger” finds Lloyd playing the meek botanist son of a legendary former San Francisco police chief who returns to the City by the Bay and ends up uncovering a dope ring in Chinatown.
“Lloyd, I think, was scared to death by sound,” says Guldin. “If you look closely at many of the press releases from over the long period of time this film was gestating, he kept changing his mind [whether to make it a silent or sound film]. He kept changing the title. He changed casts twice.”
In the end, some scenes in the silent version were reshot with dialogue for the sound version, while others were culled from the silent with awkwardly dubbed dialogue and sound effects. Some scenes changed entirely for the talkie, with comedy favorite Edgar Kennedy brought in as a foil for Lloyd in the police station sequences.
There were changes behind the camera as well. The original director of the silent, Ted Wilde, who also helmed “Speedy,” became sick during production, so Malcolm St. Clair was brought in, though he doesn’t earn a screen credit. Wilde and Clyde Bruckman received credit for the silent version, while Bruckman is the sole credited director on the talkie.
Guldin says he was a “bit scared” to tackle the silent “Welcome Danger” because bits and pieces were missing. “We had the original picture negative of the film,” he says, “but some of it was incomplete. The first reel was missing entirely. But there was also a dupe picture negative, so we were able to use that for the first reel and other segments.”
Silent film fans have embraced “Welcome Danger” because it was a “new” Lloyd silent. When it first opened at the preservation festival, Guldin reports that audiences loved it. “After we screened it, I believe it played for five days at the Film Forum [in New York]. They sold out the shows every day!”
Where: Billy Wilder Theater, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood
When: 7:30 tonight
Price: $7 and $9
Contact: www.cinema.ucla.edu or (310) 206-8013