We are happily no longer in a place where the dismissive (if only inadvertently) phrase "the third one" needs to be applied to silent comedy star Harold Lloyd. Though he was once a mostly forgotten sidebar to the always-iconic Charles Chaplin, and later, as Buster Keaton began to be rediscovered, written off largely as the B-lister who was just a rung or two below the two comic gods of the '20s, Lloyd's work has, largely in the 2000s, been reclaimed as being every bit as good and important as those men's work, with Safety Last! and The Freshman in particular standing out as acknowledged masterpieces, classics of silent comedy that pretty much everybody who gives a damn about cinema needs to have seen (the former, in particular, never really faded out of sight, thanks to its legendary clock-face scene; but for how many decades was that really the only thing that anybody knew about it? Too damn many). So thankfully, I don't have to write that piece.

Let us, anyway, divert our attention from the A-list Lloyd pictures to another one of his features made later in the same year as Safety Last!: I speak of Why Worry?, which I chose for the intellectually exquisite reason that I'd never seen it, despite having owned it since sometime in 2005, and isn't that an idiotic state of affairs? It's pretty great, despite not being at the level of his top-tier work, and despite being a legitimately unusual film in the star's career in one key respect. While Lloyd's persona (typically referred to as "the Glasses character" or "Harold", the name his characters most commonly boasted if they weren't just called "The Boy") wasn't as definitively formed as Keaton's or especially Chaplin's, there are distinct affinities between most of his roles. Typically, Lloyd will play a yearning romantic, a good-hearted striver with considerably more self-awareness and intellectual drive than any of his contemporaries, and while there was, perhaps uniquely, absolutely no consistency in the backgrounds of his characters - there are impoverished Lloyd heroes and well-to-do middle class Lloyd heroes alike - they almost all hit a kind of put-upon Everyman quality that was more urbane and recognizable than most of his colleagues. Not so in Why Worry? - here he plays Harold Van Pelham, a limitlessly wealthy hypochondriac who treats the people most loyal and loving to him with the blank indifference that you'd deliver to a kitchen appliance, who is described even before we see him as a shallow twit who recognises only his own needs and interests, and who proves this by spending literally half of his movie with no clue whatsoever that he's interacting with gun-wielding revolutionaries, not because he is dumb, but because it would never occur to him that the inhabitants of the South American island he's visiting might have any agency or personality beyond "thing that serves the whims of Harold Van Pelham".

In its joyful depiction of an utterly unlikable detached rich shitheel, Why Worry? stands as brazenly modern even by the standards of Lloyd, who was surely the most modern of all the great silent comics - Chaplin, Keaton, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle,* Mabel Normand, Charley Chase - and there's a tinge of outright rancidity in the film's eager depiction of Harold's egomania that looks forward to at least the 1960s. If the film is at absolutely no point an unpleasant or sour experience, that's because it ditches rather suddenly into deciding that the main character is a perfectly redeemable and kindly fellow who just needed something to wake him up from his privilege-induced bubble. In fact, Why Worry? is an immensely likable, charming movie, generously supposing that even an asshole is basically a good person, he's just insecure deep down where even he doesn't know it. Following the eager mockery of the film's first half, this abrupt flip in tone works almost solely because of Lloyd's incredible native charisma, an ability to seem every bit like One Of Us even when he's playing a rich tourist. And even if I'd never say that this film stacks up with Lloyd's top-tier work, let's be as clear as clear can be: the film works very well.

The plot is simple enough that I've basically already described it: Harold, accompanied by his loyal nurse (Jobyna Ralston) and valet (Wallace Howe), arrives on the sleepy island of Paradiso, shortly before the slimy American investor Jim Blake (James Mason, but not that one) kicks up a revolution in what was held to be the pleasantest, quietest place on Earth. For about half of the film's running time, Harold meanders in and out of situations where only blind luck and a case of mistaken identity keeps him from ending up dead, and the impeccable choreography that keeps him moving around is hilarious. Then he ends up in prison with the giant Colosso (John Aasen), who has been causing all manner of trouble in the countryside, and this makes it impossible for him to remain ignorant; what he first does is gain Colosso's trust by helping to pull the big man's rotten tooth out (a magnificent scene in which Lloyd's ability to shimmy around like a monkey is put to fantastic use), then discovers that he has a strange desire to save his nurse from the revolutionaries, finding that coming to the rescue of a pretty girl gives him a certain tingly feeling he'd never experienced. So he spends the remainder of the film concocting ingenious schemes to fight back despite being hugely mismatched. And the choreography in this half is even more hilarious in the first.

Directors Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor had both worked with Lloyd previous to this film (Newmeyer for several projects running, Taylor just twice), and their handling of the film speaks to an impressive ease and intuitive understanding of what the actor needed to show off his talents best; but it's also a well-directed visual comedy in ways that have nothing to do with Lloyd at all. A lengthy scene late in the film involves the use of a tall stone wall as an element in several jokes with our heroes tricking the revolutionaries, and the construction of these gags is really quite astounding: our knowledge of what's going on where we can't see it is key to unlocking several set-ups that are almost like puzzles with a funny punchline, and while none of these jokes are so monstrously unique and original as to make the film one of the stand-out comedies of all time, it's amazing to think for even a moment at how most of the humor in this film actually works - combining details from multiple shots in the viewer's head, so that the humor is generated not merely offstage, but outside of the movie entirely - and find how sophisticated comedy filmmaking can actually be. And we again return to the idea that Lloyd was uncannily modern: other comic actors and directors might have been better at staging outstanding gags in a shot, but Lloyd's films with Newmeyer and Taylor were ahead of the curve by at least a couple of years on using editing as a driving element of the joke.

In addition to being one of the few films that showcases Lloyd's character as (initially) a bit of an oblivious shit, Why Worry? marks another key moment in the actor's career: it was the last film he made with Hal Roach, one of the great comedy impresarios of the '10s and '20s. Splitting from Roach did not meaningfully slow Lloyd down; his very next film, Girl Shy is certainly one of his best, and I would argue that 1925's The Freshman is the highlight of his entire career. Roach did pretty well for himself, too: a few years later, he'd have the bright idea to put the heavyset American Oliver Hardy and the scrawny Englishman Stan Laurel together as a duo. The last film the two made together is a fine, sturdy end to an era: brilliantly convoluted and high-energy physical comedy of a sort that reached its all-time pinnacle in that era, and for Why Worry? to stand out in that company as a pretty fantastic film is a truly impressive achievement.

Elsewhere in American cinema in 1923
-Paramount releases the massively expensive, massively successful epic The Covered Wagon
-Charles Chaplin directs his first drama, and the first of his films that he did not star in, A Woman of Paris
-Lon Chaney stars in the horror-tinged literary adaptation The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Elsewhere in world cinema in 1923
-The first features known to be made in China are released
-The French Impressionism movement begins under the guidance of director Jean Epstein in L'auberge rouge and Cœur fidèle
-Also in France, Man Ray's Le retour à la raison largely invents experimental cinema as we now think of it