Henry K. Miller
Friday 17 March
Trade show of A Sailor-Made Man, the latest Harold Lloyd comedy, and his longest yet, at the London Pavilion.
In the US, the big studios had their own distribution companies and cinema chains, and were increasingly referred to as combines or trusts, terms redolent of the Gilded Age. Famous Players-Lasky was the biggest of them, but First National, Fox, and Metro were not far behind. The combines did not yet own cinemas in Britain, but had either set up their own distribution companies or taken over established British firms to much the same end; and this was to make and release full-length ‘programmers’ by the week, interspersed with more appealing ‘specials’ less frequently. The process of consolidation had not yet reached its peak, however.
Hal Roach Studios, home of Harold Lloyd, was not a combine, and harked back to a slightly earlier period in the industry’s history, when all films were short films, as most Hal Roach Studios comedies continued to be, and when production, distribution, and exhibition were less well integrated. It did not have a British distribution branch. A Sailor-Made Man, long by the studio’s standards, was still less than an hour long, but it was nonetheless sold as Harold Lloyd’s first ‘feature’ film on the strength of his name, built up in a series of increasingly long shorts over the past half-decade, and more directly appealing to the public than many longer films.
In Britain, Harold Lloyd’s films had been put out by the Goldwyn company, but in 1921 he had made a new deal with a British firm, W. & F., starting with Among Those Present and I Do, trade-shown at the London Pavilion that September. Standing for C. M. Woolf and Sydney Freedman, W. & F. had been founded a couple of years before. Woolf was a prosperous City trader in middle age when he came on board the fledgling company with a small initial investment, but became the driving force behind it when he saw how profitable the distribution business could be.
The Harold Lloyd films became the company’s staple over the next few years, and the profits W. & F. derived from them, reinvested in production, lay behind Hitchcock’s first completed films as director in 1925–7, and most of the films he would work on before then. But as of March 1922 the company for which he would make these films had yet to come into being.