Forgotten by many, silent film comic genius Harold Lloyd had a successful sound career in the early 1930s. Films like Welcome Danger, The Milky Way and Movie Crazy were big comedy hits and often featured high production values, exotic locations and ample doses of horror, mystery, action and suspense. They are certainly not classics like his silent features, but one in particular comes close: The amazing The Cat’s-Paw (1934). It resembles but predates Preston Sturges’ Hail The Conquering Hero (1944) and the Jerzi Kosinski, Hal Ashby, Peter Sellers collaboration Being There (1979).
A little boy, Ezekiel Cobb (wearing Harold Lloyd glasses), the son of a missionary, is raised at in a remote part of China – he has no contact with the outside world. He is educated in theology and the philosophies of Ping Li and Confucius.
When he’s grown (Lloyd), his Dad sends him back home to “Stockport, California” to find a suitable wife. He arrives and the cultural disconnection with everything from traffic, telephones, radio, rudeness and American vernacular is hilarious. He speaks in simple sentences quoting the above philosophers. Like Chauncey from Being There, people mistake his simplicity for sagacity and he unwittingly becomes a candidate for Mayor. When he tries to dissuade the public that he is unqualified, they perceive this as refreshing modesty (ala Hail …). “City Hall” likes that Ezekiel is a naïve patsy they can control, but of course he starts proposing poverty and other socially responsible programs (ala Dave with Kevin Kline), and a conflict with the corrupt politicians arises. He almost falls prey.
The production values are stellar – particularly the scenes in China. This is a Class A old-time FOX movie directed by Sam Taylor (Safety Last), beautifully shot by Walter Lundin, with music by Alfred Newman. The film is available in the Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection Vol. 1 DVD [it’s on disc two], though I can’t vouch that is the pristine, crisp, restored version I saw on TCM. There is not a current scheduling but the network always includes it in the twice-yearly 24-hour Harold Lloyd-a-thons.
Not only is this film ahead of its time, it is a vivid illustration of today’s political back room power grabs and false infatuation with under-qualified political puppets. An amazing, beautifully acted and realized film, not to be missed.
[Editor’s Note: For more information about Harold Lloyd, visit the official Harold Lloyd website. More importantly, track down and watch his films!]