Anatomy of a Gag

Harold Lloyd’s Ingenious Blend of Slapstick and Horror in The Kid Brother

On Film / Visual Analysis — Mar 20, 2019


Harold Lloyd may not have had the melancholy disposition of his silent-clown competitors Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, but he knew how to introduce elements of menace and peril into his comedies in a way that revealed the vulnerabilities of his iconic “glasses” character. In what many critics consider his most fully realized work, 1927’s The Kid Brother, an air of the macabre descends on one of the filmmaker’s most ambitious sequences. Lloyd’s hero, an innocent but savvy young man who unexpectedly finds himself in the position of saving his family’s name, is stuck onboard a ship with a killer played with sadistic relish by Constantine Romanoff, whose towering figure and sinister face seem to have drifted in from another movie entirely. In his latest episode of Anatomy of a Gag, produced for our recently released edition of the film, critic David Cairns pays close attention to how Lloyd orchestrates the perfect mixture of comedy and horror, one that highlights how the two genres share similar methods of building and releasing tension. Watch the above video to see how Lloyd pairs shadowy lighting and suspenseful pacing with moments of slapstick bravado—and one showstopping monkey.