Cast: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston
SUMMARY: The Hickory men — Sheriff Jim and his three sons — are the leading citizens of Hickoryville, but the youngest son, Harold (Harold Lloyd) does not command the same respect as his father and brothers, due to his smaller stature and lack of brawn. Harold is a frequent target of both of his brothers, as well as Hank Hooper, Harold’s nemesis since childhood. He compensates for his lack of muscle with an exceptional brain, usually outsmarting and outmaneuvering his foes. The buzz around town is a new dam that is to be built, which has been funded by the townspeople. The town holds a meeting to discuss the project, but Harold is left at home by his father and brothers. While they are gone, Harold puts on his father’s badge and gun belt and pretends to be the sheriff. At the same time, a traveling medicine show comes into town. The show is run by conman “Flash Farrell”, joined by strongman Sandoni and dancer Mary (Jobyna Ralston). When the show rolls into town, Farrell mistakes Harold for the real sheriff, and tricks him into signing a permit allowing the show to perform. As the men set up, Mary wanders down to a river, but is followed by the lecherous Sandoni. She is rescued by Harold, who somewhat accidentally scares off the strongman; the two have an instant attraction to each other. Meanwhile, the townspeople have decided to entrust the dam money to Sheriff Jim until the state representative arrives to collect it. That evening, Jim is horrified to learn that a medicine show is operating in his town; when he finds out that Harold signed the permit, he orders him to put a stop to it. Harold asks Farrell to leave, but is mocked and humiliated by the conman, and eventually tied up. A candle is knocked over, setting the entire show on fire, and ultimately burning it completely. Mary and Harold meet again, and since Mary has nowhere else to go, Harold invites her to stay at the Hickory house.
Jim is asleep by the time the pair arrive, but Harold’s brothers are not: he is forced to use more creative maneuvers to keep them occupied and out of sight of Mary. Unfortunately, all of his work comes to nothing, as Hank Hooper and his mother show up to take Mary with them, saying that it would not be proper for her to stay in a house with no women. Before she leaves, Harold asks Mary to go with him to the dam celebration the next day. The state representative is supposed to attend the celebration and collect the money, but everybody in town is stunned to find that the money is gone. Jim believes that Farrell and Sandoni have taken it, but suspicious townspeople refuse to let him leave and give chase. Jim deputizes his two oldest sons, but once again leaves Harold out, believing him not up to the fight. After some time, both sons come back alone, reporting that they were unable to find the cons. Outside the building where this is happening, Harold has confessed to Mary that he has created an illusion about himself and his physical prowess. Mary tells him that he is truly capable of such feats if he only believes in himself, but just then she is accused of being part of the robbery by Hank Hooper. Harold tries to fight off the approaching crowd, but Hank knocks him unconscious, puts him in a rowboat, and sends it down the river. When Harold wakes up, he is floating next to a large abandoned ship, and soon realizes that Farrell and Sandoni are hiding out inside — with the money. After an argument about how to divide the money, Sandoni kills Farrell and in the process discovers Harold. The two engage in a back-and-forth chase and money-grab that travels all over the ship; Harold ultimately wins by stacking life rings on Sandoni, then putting him in the water and floating him back to town. He transfers his prisoner to a buggy, and fends off another escape attempt, to arrive in front of the mob that has assembled to hang Sheriff Jim (believing that he is the real culprit). Jim finally acknowledges his youngest son as “a real Hickory”, and Harold reunites with Mary. They walk away together, but stop so that Harold can beat up Hank Hooper before continuing arm in arm.
MY TAKE: It seems like most old slapstick movies involve a character getting into funny scrapes because they’re inept or monumentally clumsy. This one’s a little different — Harold gets into the funny situations because he’s trying to compensate for his lack of size and strength. He’s also usually running away from his brothers or Hank Hooper. Thankfully, Harold has more brains than all three put together. He routinely makes fools out of his brothers, in particular: he even convinces them that he’s Mary for a while, and tricks them into jumping their father (a terrible idea). His fight with Sandoni is pretty epic, and Harold comes up with some ingenious methods. In an attempt to trick Sandoni into believing that the police have arrived, he sticks a pipe into a window, making Sandoni think that it’s a rifle barrel; he immobilizes Sandoni by encasing the man in life rings, then ties him into it and uses him as a raft (with a broom as a paddle); finally, when he notices that Sandoni is about to get loose in the buggy, he makes a quick detour into a group of trees, managing to knock Sandoni’s head against a low one. I’m not overly impressed with Sheriff Jim, being unable to recognize the superior intellect of his youngest son. In the end, Harold is a hero and wins the girl — and for good measure, gives Hank Hooper an ass-kicking he won’t soon forget.