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Defector At The Movies

Harold Lloyd Terrifying Babe Ruth With Bad Driving Is Now In The Public Domain

9:54 AM EST on January 3, 2024

I don't have to credit anyone!

A new year means new works of art in the public domain. Most famously, this means Steamboat Willie, which has led to a lot of people creating unimaginative Mickey Mouse parodies that would have been allowed all along as fair use anyway. But it also means your ass isn't going to get in any copyright trouble for using or sharing the likes of Lady Chatterley's Lover, The Man Who Laughs, The Threepenny Opera, and Tigger.

Cultural icons all, but I'd like to draw your attention to Speedy, which like all films of 1928 entered the public domain this week. It's notable for being the legendary Harold Lloyd's final silent feature and for being the earliest filmed instance of someone giving The Finger. Wow. Historic.

Speedy is also memorable for an appearance by Babe Ruth. While silent films were already increasingly unpopular with audiences, Ruth was in 1928 at the peak of his stardom, coming off a 60-homer season and a Yankees championship, and when Speedy was released just a few days before Opening Day, he may well have been the most famous person in the country.

Ruth dabbled in film over his career, beginning with 1920's Headin' Home, a forgettable and entirely fictionalized biopic where he starred, somehow unconvincingly, as himself—Ruth was certainly no professional actor, and at that point he had yet to establish the larger-than-life personality that might translate well to the screen. He also played himself in 1942's Pride of the Yankees opposite Gary Cooper as the late Lou Gehrig, but by that time Ruth's health was a mess: at the time of filming he was obese, recovering from a heart attack, and suffering from pneumonia.

No, Speedy is Ruth's best work. He again plays himself, but an agitated, cartoonish version—his overacting serves the scene well. My man is really going for it!

In Speedy, Harold Lloyd plays a big-time Yankees fan whose girlfriend's father is the owner of the last horse-drawn streetcar in New York, and who the railroads are attempting to buy out. Speedy's love of baseball keeps getting him fired from various jobs, and he ends up as a taxi driver who stumbles across Ruth as a fare. He's got to get the Babe from the orphanage to Yankee Stadium, and fast.

At 3:36 of the above clip, keep an eye out for a cameo by Lou Gehrig, who had acting ambitions of his own.

Anyway, Speedy again loses his job when his boss sees him in the stands when he's supposed to be working. Eventually, the evil railroad people steal the streetcar and horse, and the climactic setpiece of the film is Speedy's chase across the city to retrieve them in time to save the business. It's all very charming. If you'd like to watch the whole movie ... you can watch it right here. Whoo, public domain! In your face, Paramount Pictures and The Harold Lloyd Corporation!

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