Get Out and Get Under
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"Johnny O'Connor bought an automobile,
He took his sweetheart for a ride one Sunday,
Johnny was togged up in his Sunday clothes,
She nestled close to his side..."
So begins a popular song at the time of the Harold Lloyd-Hal Roach production, Get Out and Get Under, a two-reel comedy released in September 1920 about a young man's efforts to get to his own stage show on time, or a rival will play his part and put the moves on his girlfriend (played by Lloyd's future wife, Mildred Davis). His efforts are severely hampered by that blessing and curse of the 20th century, the automobile. Lloyd worships his car. In fact, it's truly "his sweetheart" that he takes for a ride, but it also causes him so much hilarious trouble that you wonder why it's among his most prized possessions.
His precious Model-T is introduced as a pearl of middle class wealth, a shiny and sleek machine (by early 1920's aesthetic standards) that is kept under a protective cloak in a temperature-controlled garage. It is a scenario that is at once absurd, but ironically familiar to today's viewer. Once this second major character is introduced, it becomes clear that its function is not to be Lloyd's friend, but instead his ambivalent antagonist. As soon as Lloyd gets the car cranked and the stubborn garage doors are forced open, the car seemingly shifts into reverse on its own and slams through the back of the garage and into a neighbor's carefully cultivated garden. Instead of being concerned, Lloyd is merely relieved that his car sustained not a scratch.
"Things went just dandy 'till he got down the road,
Then something happened to the old machinery,
That engine got his goat, Off went his hat and coat,
Ev'rything needed repairs..He'd have to get under,
Get out and get under to fix his little machine..."
Once Harold is on his way, he appears confidant and in control using the car in ways that you might not expect, such as jumping out of the moving car and picking up objects that have fallen onto the road. They are acts that demand speed, timing, and a filmmaker's confidence that the car is going to behave while unmanned. But then the car's reliability breaks down and becomes a troublesome, but comical contraption. At one point, as he's trying to fix the engine on the side of the road, Harold is literally swallowed up as he goes down deeper and deeper into the guts of the engine block. It is a sight gag that Lloyd did not often employ, as his comedy was usually predicated on everyday occurrences, things that could conceivably happen. But for this scene, he departed from his usual comic style to create a sight gag worthy of the surrealists. Lloyd later told historian and filmmaker Kevin Brownlow, "As a rule, when I put on the glasses, I never did anything you couldn't believe in. It may seem improbable, but you could figure it could happen."
Get Out and Get Under was one of the first films Lloyd appeared in after recovering from a freak accident that nearly claimed his life. In the summer of 1919, while posing for a publicity photo during the production of his short film Haunted Spooks, Lloyd was holding what he thought was a prop bomb. However, the bomb actually had some kind of explosive residue in it, so when the bomb was lit, the bomb went off, severely injuring Lloyd and actor Nat Clifford, who appears in Get Out and Get Under as the fastidious gardener. Lloyd sustained severe burns to his face and the loss of the thumb and forefinger off his right hand. Despite the devastating injuries, Lloyd was very lucky; had he not lowered the bomb from his face at the instant it went off, he would have been killed. After a period of recovery, and the help of a specially designed glove that gave the illusion of a still-whole right hand, Lloyd resumed making pictures. When we first see Harold in Get Out and Get Under, the scars on his face are visible in close-up. Lloyd most certainly could have opted for a less magnifying close-up, but perhaps he wanted to prove that he was ready to get back to work.
Producer: Hal Roach
Director: Fred C. Newmeyer
Cinematography: Walter Lundin
Music: Robert Israel
Cast: Harold Lloyd (The Boy), Mildred Davis (The Girl), Fred McPherson (The Rival), William Gillespie (Dope fiend), Ernest Morrison (Small Boy).
by Scott McGee