Directed by Alf Goulding. Cast: Harold Lloyd, Bebe Daniels, Bud Jamison, Gus Leonard, Dee Lampton, Noah Young, and Sammy Brooks. Released August 31, 1919. One reel. Source: American Slapstick Vol. 2 (DVD)
Harold Lloyd is one of the acknowledged Big Three of silent screen comedy, along with Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, whose work goes well beyond the visceral and offers a greater level of cleverness, aesthetic appreciation, and cinematic advancement. One of the more fascinating ways to explore such a comedian’s career is to examine earlier films in which many of the ideas and refinements were first being discovered.
Harold initially established himself in movies as the character Lonesome Luke in a series of insubstantial slapstick comedies that are sometimes frenetically amusing. He then minimalized to the point of looking the most “ordinary” of the comedians back in the days of bulging eyes, flailing arms, and freakish makeup. Engaging in the same sort of raucous behavior, but looking like a basic myopic nebbish, Lloyd spent years exploring possibilities and refining his screen character.
“Don’t Shove” is a one reel slapstick comedy in which Lloyd and others are interested in the attentions of pretty Bebe Daniels. A birthday party and a skirmish on the street are setups to a wild slapstick conclusion on the roller rink. The one-reeler’s structure is utterly basic, but it’s what Lloyd does with it that is most interesting.
Harold brings Bebe a present at her well-attended birthday party, but a rival makes a switch and replaces Harold’s feminine gift with a pipe and tin of tobacco. Bebe opens it, is offended, and Harold is ordered out. He and the rival engage in a chase, but it’s all walking, no running, with quick dodges and pivots up and down streets and around corners. The rival gets in a confrontation with another man. He punches him. The man cries, and his little brother beats up the rival. Harold asks the little brother to give him an impromptu boxing lesson, but during this, Harold turns and punches a cop. The two run away and into a roller skating rink, where Harold must stay in order to avoid the cop. So he dons a pair of skates and joins Bebe’s party, which is now being celebrated at the rink.
These opening scenes are filled with visual contrasts. First, Harold’s rival who switches the gifts is burly Bud Jamison. Their chase, a nicely choreographed bit of business done walking rather than running, leads to another big man with whom Bud gets into a tussle. One slap and the man is crying. The “little brother” is about half the size of Bud, but easily beats him in a fight. The smaller man’s ability to beat the larger man inspires Harold. He wants to be able to do that as well.
The skating rink scenes are much more raucous than in Chaplin’s “The Rink” (1916), which also uses physical contrast (although Chaplin is smaller than Lloyd and his co-star, Eric Campbell, is larger than Bud Jamison, which presents an even more striking dynamic). A professional skater puts on a demonstration for the partygoers, but Harold loftily claims he can do as well. His attempts result in more destruction on the rink, which hardly impresses Bebe.