Harold Lloyd’s feature Girl Shy is not so much a comic gag reel as a character-driven story. The first type I would equate more with Keaton, the second feels more like the sentiment of Chaplin. Lloyd does both very well and in this case, he plays Harold, a tailor’s apprentice with a stuttering problem — which actually is very pronounced — despite the lack of sound. Of course, his nervous bouts only come along when he has the harrowing experience of interacting with the opposite sex.
Instead of attending a town-wide dance in Little Bend, Harold resolves instead to stay in his basement and type away at the novel he’s writing. It’s called “The Secret of Making Love” and it’s his manifesto for all the boys who don’t quite know how to act around girls. Really, he’s penning it for himself and within its pages, he details how to win over anyone from a vampire to the flapper. To him, it’s going to be the next great thing and we cannot help but admire his ambition — misguided as it may seem.
Aboard the local train he helps a pretty young woman (Jobyna Ralston) stowaway her dog from the conductor, and then he excitedly regales her with his book, when he’s not shaking. The lovely time is broken up when they reach their final destination, but as parting gifts, they trade a box of dog biscuits for a pack of cracker jacks. Perhaps not the most romantic of gestures, but neither one cares. In fact, Mary detours through Little Bend several more times until she finally runs into Mr. Meadows again. They sit by a pond where Harold mistakes a tortoise for a rock and gets in a bit of a sticky situation. However, the gags do not overshadow the human aspect, which is still at the forefront of our tale.
When Harold finally has his date with the publisher everyone laughs at his joke-of-a-book. It dashes all his dreams and he knows he cannot get Mary now. So he puts up a false front, not wanting to string her along, and so, of course, the heartbroken girl goes to the only other person she can. The token rich middle-aged suitor, who is stuffy and boring.
But on the advice of a proofreader, the publishers decide to spin Harold’s book as a humorous read and unbeknownst to him a check comes in the mail. He’s dejected at first because these aren’t the terms he wanted, but then he remembers Mary, and upon seeing news of her marriage, he rushes to stop the impending wedding.
At this point Girl Shy loses its heartfelt narrative thread in favor of Lloydian acrobatics, a la Speedy, but don’t get me wrong, it’s still thoroughly enjoyable watching Lloyd frantically try to hitch a ride to the wedding by any means possible. I was half surprised he didn’t try to pull a little girl’s bike away from her because he tried about everything else imaginable. In case you hadn’t guessed, he gets the girl in the end.
Going back to Chaplin, I think he tugs at the part of our hearts that feels sympathy for the poor and unfortunate masses. Lloyd on the other hand channels a different vein, relatable to all those who have ever been rejected or made fun of for being awkward and uncool. He suggests that there is still hope for those people. I relate to the quiet stoicism of Keaton certainly, but the nerdish charm of Lloyd hits home too. I think a lot of us can relate to Girl Shy.