One of the great things about living in the Washington, DC, metro area, is the abundance of niche film festivals that pop up. Not enough of the classic variety for my taste, but occasionally the themes intersect, as happened for the last two days of the Environmental Film Festival. The theme of this year's festival was Our Cities, Our Planet, and some very thoughtful person included three silent pictures to illustrate modernization: Metropolis (1927), Speedy (1928), and Lonesome (1928), all of which were accompanied by the great Alloy Orchestra at the lovely AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland.
To be honest, I couldn't figure out why these pictures were part of the Environmental Film Fest until I read the liner notes. I figured it was because Alloy uses a "junk" percussion set in their scores, but sure, modernization and cityscapes, I'll buy that. Who am I to question why I got the opportunity to take my 11-year-old to a great silent movie with live music?
So we chose Speedy, the only one of the three I hadn't already seen. It's the story of Harold "Speedy" Swift, a young man (35-year-old Harold Lloyd) trying to get ahead in New York City. His very understanding and adorable girlfriend, Jane (Ann Christy), would like him to quit getting fired from every new job, but in the meantime, is happy to have Speedy around to help with her lovable, crotchety old grandfather, Pop Dillon (vaudeville actor Bert Woodruff).
Pop Dillon runs one of the last horse-drawn trolleys in New York City somewhere near Greenwich Village within view of the Brooklyn Bridge, which I think is possible. In order to keep the franchise, the car has to run on its track at least once in 24 hours. City transit developers, however, are anxious to get rid of this last holdout in order to expand mechanized rail lines, but Pop won't sell until they make a decent offer. Speedy realizes that Pop's kind of low-balling the figure and wants him not to be taken advantage of. Plus, he likes the guy and doesn't want his girlfriend to worry about Pop in his declining years -- and she won't marry Speedy until she knows Pop is going to be OK.
That, and Speedy needs to keep a job for more than a day.
Naturally, the developers decide not to pay for Pop's track, but take a more economical route by hiring bunch of toughs to stage a fight on the trolley car and either wreck it, or at least keep it from running once in the required 24 hours. Speedy learns of this plan and organizes all of Pop's poker buddies who use the car after hours as a kind of clubhouse for Civil War Veterans and other neighborhood oldies, to help out when the fight begins. And what a glorious fight it is! Watch out particularly for the guy with the wooden leg.
There are spectacular chase scenes through pretty much all of New York City in 1928, from the Bronx (the Yankees, including some extend time with Babe Ruth, figure heavily in Speedy's world) to Washington Square to wherever this trolley line is. There's a charming sequence at Luna Park, Coney Island, where we really get invested in Speedy and Jane living happily ever after, because they're very sweet together. I took note of a number of rides I wish still existed and longed for the days I could eat that much crap in one afternoon. At the park Speedy and Jane also pick up an important, adorable dog.
All, of course, comes out right in the end. The trolley is saved, then sold for a comfortable figure, and Jane finally agrees to marry Speedy.
What I loved about this picture -- apart from Harold Lloyd, who reminds me oddly of my excellent brother-in-law in this movie, except Dave can keep a job and is a rabid Mets fan -- is that New York looks like New York. There are people of all races, ages, and classes in the shots, unlike, say Friends, Sex in the City, Girls, etc. for all their "modern" sensibilities. I love that as hectic and trafficky as the city is in 1928, there's still a non-anachronistic blacksmith shop on hand when your horse throws a shoe. I love the inter-generational kindness and the relative cooperativeness among strangers.
Most of all, I love how much my Wii-playing, Disney-crazy son enjoyed the show -- especially the music. Which is how it should be!
Don't Mess With a Civil War Vet
I'll do just about anything a movie tells me to do. Unless it tells me wrong...
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