Kid Brother is a departure for Lloyd from the general hubbub of urban life as he finds himself on a ranch, living with his two older brothers and his father, who is the local sheriff. His surname this time around is Hickory an aptly brawny moniker for a frontiersman, except he’s hardly the physical specimen of his father and brothers. They spend their days chopping down timber and hoisting logs on their broad shoulders. Harold does his daily work collecting the laundry and ultimately chasing after it when it blows away.
He unwittingly gets himself into a jam when he puts on his father’s sheriff garb and is approached by a traveling medicine show looking for a permit to perform in the local town. Not wanting to lose face he plays the role and lets them have their show. When father catches wind he’s not very happy and sends young Harold to end the show, but he’s not much at laying down the law. Instead, they make a mockery of him, and he is truly a pitiful figure hanging helplessly by his arms at the road show.
But there is one person who likes him a lot. Mary, who is part of the traveling show. And Harold does a seemingly unheard of thing of inviting her to spend the night at his family residence. She does something even more unthinkable and accepts. It’s probably the happiest Harold has been in a long time, and it spells a turning point for him. Mary winds up staying somewhere else as not to cause a scandal, but nevertheless, Harold’s ego is boosted.
After his father is accused of stealing a large sum of money, the town is in an uproar. All three sons go out to try and clear his name by bringing back the culprits. Of course, it is brother # 3 who is on the right path and finds the shady members of the traveling show hiding out on a boat. This ending set piece in some ways hearkens back to Keaton’s The Navigator and Lloyd rather ingeniously subdues his foe, although he seems woefully outmatched.
He regains the family honor and earns the commendation of his family. Most importantly Harold Hickory walks off into the sunset, love in arm, rather like Chaplin, but there’s no doubt Lloyd is his own man. He wears glasses, and he’s most certainly his own creation.
In fact, it brought to mind Woody Allen’s Love and Death. Harold Lloyd makes as good a pioneer as Woody Allen makes a Russian, but then there is a great deal of comedy from appearances alone. Their personas are at odds with the worlds that they place themselves in. However, while Woody Allen is always weighed down by cynicism and fatalistic thoughts, Lloyd’s glasses character has not been besmirched by the ways of the world. He maintains his sense of innocence and hope throughout his journey. That’s what allows him to get the girl and conquer all obstacles, winning his audience over in the process. His outlook is summed up by the intertitle, “no matter what anybody else thinks, have confidence in yourself and you can’t lose.” Perhaps it’s idealistic stuff of the past, but then again 90 years ago is in the past. Maybe even today there’s at least a bit of truth we can glean from it.