The Sin of Harold Diddlebock
The Sin of Harold Diddlebock is a 1947 comedy film written and directed by Preston Sturges, starring the silent film comic icon Harold Lloyd, and featuring a supporting cast including Jimmy Conlin, Raymond Walburn, Rudy Vallee, Arline Judge, Edgar Kennedy, Franklin Pangborn, J. Farrell MacDonald, Robert Dudley, Robert Greig, Lionel Stander and Jackie the Lion. The film's story is a continuation of The Freshman, one of Lloyd's most successful movies.
|The Sin of Harold Diddlebock|
Original theatrical poster
|Directed by||Preston Sturges|
|Written by||Preston Sturges|
Werner R. Heymann|
Harry Rosenthal (uncredited)
Curtis Courant (uncredited)
|Edited by||Thomas Neff|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
or $2.4 million
The Sin of Harold Diddlebock was Sturges' first project after leaving Paramount Pictures, where he had made his most popular films, but the film was not successful in its initial release. It was quickly pulled from distribution by producer Howard Hughes who took almost four years to re-shoot some scenes and re-edit the film, finally re-releasing it in 1950 as Mad Wednesday – but the reception by the general public was no better the second time around. A few critics consider this film a masterpiece of comedy.
Lloyd was never to star in another film, turning instead to production, and releasing compilation films featuring his earlier silent film work.
In 1923, Tate College freshman Harold Diddlebock (Harold Lloyd) is brought into his college's football team where he scores the winning touchdown (as told in the silent feature film The Freshman). The mild-mannered Harold is quickly offered a job by the pompous advertising tycoon J.E. Waggleberry (Raymond Walburn). After completing his college studies a few months later, Harold meets with Mr. Waggleberry at his advertising office for the job offer. Although Harold dreams of becoming an "ideas man," Waggleberry assigns him to a lowly position in the bookkeeping department.
Jumping forward 22 years later to the year 1945, the now middle-aged Harold, who has been stuck in his dull, dead-end book-keeping job, is let go by Waggleberry for incompetency and lack of ambition. He is given an 18 karat Swiss watch that is 'properly inscribed "with gratitude and love and kisses for 20 years devoted services"' and a check for $2,946.12, the remains of his company investment plan. He bids farewell to Miss Otis (Frances Ramsden), a young woman who works at an artist's desk down the aisle, giving her the paid-for engagement ring that he had, having planned to marry each of her six older sisters (Hortense, Irma, Harriet, Margie, Claire, and Rosemary) when they had worked there before her. He wanders out, aimlessly through the streets, his life's savings in his trouser pocket.
While looking through the newspaper want ads for another job, Harold is approached by Wormy (Jimmy Conlin), a local con artist, petty gambler, and racetrack tout, who asks Harold for some money so he can place a bet. Seeing the large amount of cash that Harold has, and hoping to get him drunk enough to acquire some of the cash, Wormy takes the depressed and unemployed Harold to a local bar for a drink. When Harold tells the bartender, Jake (Edgar Kennedy), that he has never had a drink in his life, the barkeep creates a potent cocktail he calls "The Diddlebock", one sip of which is enough to release Harold from all his inhibitions. The effects of the alcohol causes Harold to yowl uncontrollably. Gazing at himself in the bar mirror, Harold suddenly declares himself a loser and races out to remake himself. Soon Harold is getting his hair cut and his nails manicured at a local tailor shop and salon, and is trying on a gaudy plaid suit supplied by tailor Formfit Franklin (Franklin Pangborn). In the midst of his transformation, Harold overhears Wormy talking with his bookie Max (Lionel Stander), and impulsively bets $1,000 of his money on a 15-to-one long shot horse named Emmaline. To everyone's surprise, Emmaline wins, and the now-rich Harold, with $15,000 in his pockets, begins to celebrate all around town on a day-and-a-half binge of spending, gambling, and carousing.
A few days later, Harold wakes up on the sofa inside the house of his widowed sister Flora (Margaret Hamilton) where she chastises him for his wild, irresponsible behavior. He finds that he has a hangover, but he also has a garish new wardrobe and a ten-gallon cowboy hat. Unable to remember much about his drunken binge, particularly about what he did on Wednesday which is a total blank, Harold wanders outside to return the plaid suit where he is surprised to learn that he now owns a hansom horse-drawn cab complete with an English driver named Thomas (Robert Greig). A worried Wormy then rushes up and informs Harold that, with winnings from a second bet, Harold also bought a bankrupt circus. After a meeting with the animal handlers and circus freaks, Harold first seeks help from the Kitt-Poo Home for Cats to feed the circus' starving lions and tigers. Seeing no future with the ownership of the circus, Harold then gets the idea to sell the circus to a Wall Street banker.
Harold and Wormy visit the circus-loving Wall Street banker Lynn Sargent (Rudy Vallee) to ask him to purchase their circus, but he turns them down because he is trying to unload his own bankrupt circus. When the rest of the town's bankers follow suit, Harold comes up with an idea. To get past the bank guards, Harold dresses up in his plaid suit and brings along Jackie, a tame circus lion, who incites panic. Carrying a filled Thermos, Wormy gives shot drinks of the potent "Diddlebock" cocktail to each of the bankers they visit so their inhibitions will fade and convince them to put in bids for ownership of the circus. Things take a turn for the worse when the lion gets loose, in which Harold, Wormy, and the lion end up on the ledge of a skyscraper, but narrowly avoid plunging to certain death.
According to Harold's plan, the three (Harold, Wormy, and Jackie the Lion) are arrested and thrown in jail. Miss Otis bails them out the following day, and they find that the publicity has attracted a mob of bankers at the jail who want to buy the circus – but Ringling Brothers outbids them. Harold celebrates with another "Diddlebock", and again has another relapse. In the final scene, Harold wakes up another day or two later in the horse-drawn cab with Miss Otis where he learns that he received $175,000 for the sale of the circus, he is now an executive at Waggleberry's advertising agency, and that he and Miss Otis are married. Reassuring Harold that she truly loves him, Miss Otis gives him a big kiss, and Harold finally remembers what he was doing all day on Wednesday. The final shot shows Wormy tagging along with them by riding on the back bumper of the cab.
- Harold Lloyd as Harold Diddlebock
- Jimmy Conlin as Wormy
- Raymond Walburn as E.J. Waggleberry
- Rudy Vallee as Lynn Sargent
- Edgar Kennedy as Jake, the bartender
- Arline Judge as Manicurist
- Franklin Pangborn as Formfit Franklin
- Lionel Stander as Max
- Margaret Hamilton as Flora
- Jack Norton as James R. Smoke
- Robert Dudley as Robert McDuffy
- Arthur Hoyt as J.P. Blackstone
- Julius Tannen as Nearsighted Banker
- Al Bridge as Wild Bill Hickock
- Robert Greig as Algernon McNiff
- Georgia Caine as Bearded lady
- Torben Meyer as Barber with mustache
- Victor Potel as Prof. Potelle
- Frances Ramsden as Frances Otis
Cast and character notes:
- The Sin of Harold Diddlebock was Lloyd's last original film.
- Although the film explicitly connects the character of Harold Diddlebock to that in The Freshman, in the earlier film his surname is Lamb.
- This movie was the only credited feature film appearance of Frances Ramsden (1920—2000), whose role is important enough that she could have received second billing.
- After Howard Hughes re-edited the film, Rudy Vallee's part was almost entirely cut out, and he did not receive screen credit on the re-released film, Mad Wednesday, nor did Georgia Caine. Also, Lloyd's billing was moved from above the title to below, provoking Lloyd to file a $750,000 lawsuit in 1953 against RKO and California Pictures, claiming breach of contract.
- The supporting cast of Harold Diddlebock is largely made up of charter members of Preston Sturges' unofficial "stock company" of character actors, including Al Bridge, Georgia Caine, Jimmy Conlin, Robert Dudley, Robert Greig, Arthur Hoyt, J. Farrell MacDonald, Torben Meyer, Charles R. Moore, Frank Moran, Jack Norton, Franklin Pangborn, Victor Potel, Dewey Robinson, Harry Rosenthal, Julius Tannen and Max Wagner.
After writer-director Preston Sturges left Paramount Pictures in 1944, he and millionaire Howard Hughes formed California Pictures, and in July of that year it was reported that Sturges had tempted one of his idols, Harold Lloyd, out of retirement to become a producer-director at the new studio, with his first project to be "The Sin of Hilda Diddlebock", a story written by Sturges about a girl's adventures in Hollywood, and their second project a film called "The Wizard of Whispering Falls" (Lloyd had not appeared on film since 1938's Professor Beware). Even after Lloyd became the lead character, he was promised by Sturges that he could direct part of the film, but this never happened. Although the project began as a labor of love between Sturges and Lloyd, the two had a falling out over creative differences, which affected the quality of the finished film.
The Sin of Harold Diddlebock went into production on 12 September 1945. California Pictures was a new company and didn't have adequate facilities to make the film, so Sturges attempted to buy Sherman Studios. When he failed, production on The Sin of Harold Diddlebock was located at Goldwyn Studios, with additional shooting – including the window ledge scene which recalled a well-known similar scene from Lloyd's Safety Last (1923) – at Paramount Studios. Some location shooting (for the hansom cab scenes) took place on Riverside Drive in Los Angeles. By the time that filming wrapped on 29 January 1946, the film was $600,000 over budget.
The film premiered in Miami, Florida on 8 February 1947, and went into general release on 4 April. Despite Sturges' later claim that the film "got the best reviews I ever received," the notices were mixed and commented on the unevenness of the comedy, perhaps the result of the falling out between Sturges and Lloyd. Sturges claimed that producer Howard Hughes used the reviews as an excuse to re-make the film.
In May, it was reported that Hughes was running a contest for his employees to find a shorter name for the film, with the winner to get $250; the next month, after it had only played in three cities, the film was pulled from circulation and its name changed to Mad Wednesday, because of concerns that the word "sin" in the title would hold back the film's box office from the "family trade". It was intended to return the film to distribution as soon as October, and a special effects crew was sent to San Francisco to film process shots to be used in the film's re-editing.
In the event, because of Hughes' re-editing of the film and re-shooting of some scenes – Sturges said that Hughes "[left] out all the parts I considered the best in the picture, and adding to its end a talking horse" – the film was not ready for re-release until 1950. United Artists backed out of their distribution deal with Hughes, so after Hughes bought RKO, he used his new studio to release the film, now cut from 89 to 76 minutes, on 28 October 1950. The total cost of the film was estimated to be $1,712,959.
Both versions of the film, as originally released and as altered by Hughes, still exist. According to All Movie Guide's Hal Erikson, the shorter version plays better for audiences, while the original is richer in its comic invention and characterizations.
Awards and honorsEdit
- TCM Notes
- Variety (6 February 2018). "Variety (May 1948)". New York, NY: Variety Publishing Company – via Internet Archive.
- Erickson, Hal "The Sin of Harold Diddlebock" (Allmovie)
- TCM Full synopsis
- James Curtis, Between Flops: A Biography of Preston Sturges, Limelight, 1984 p210
- "Festival de Cannes: The Sin of Harold Diddlebock". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-01-16.