Three men surround a desk that has a lion on top of it.

The Sin of Harold Diddlebock

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Part of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s 2022 UCLA Festival of Preservation screening series. Register at to attend this in-theater screening.

U.S., 1947

“Lloyd Dons Specs Again” and “A Freshmen Returns” were just some of the headlines teasing silent icon Harold Lloyd’s first on-screen appearance in nearly a decade and, ultimately, his last. The Sin of Harold Diddlebock also constitutes an end of sorts for writer-director Preston Sturges, who, despite critical praise, would never again find the commercial success he previously enjoyed. Diddlebock is the only film Sturges made during his short-lived, ill-fated partnership with aviator and producer Howard Hughes at California Pictures.

In the cynical hands of Preston Sturges, Harold Lamb, Lloyd’s plucky go-getter from The Freshman (1925), ages 20 years into the lonely Harold Diddlebock, a sad-sack bookkeeper robbed of his confidence and ambition. Fired from his dead-end job, Diddlebock wanders the streets with a wad of severance cash and meets Wormy (Jimmy Conlin), a bumbling gambler who lures him into a bar for a drink. That first drop strips Harold (who has never touched the stuff) of his inhibitions and launches him into a series of wild, drunken (and hungover) escapades featuring an eclectic mix of gags and run-ins with Sturges regulars Torben Meyer, Franklin Pangborn and Al Bridge. The film’s climax is a star turn from Jackie the lion, MGM’s second mascot after the original, Leo, that pays tribute to Lloyd’s iconic Safety Last! (1923) thrill.

Though a review in The Showmen's Trade Review called the film “screamingly funny,” unsatisfactory returns convinced Hughes to pull it shortly after release, shave off about 15 minutes of Sturges’ trademark dialogue, cut a scene featuring Rudy Vallée and add a bizarre talking horse sequence to the film's ending before re-releasing it three years later as Mad Wednesday (1950) to equally poor box office numbers. This restoration pulls from Sturges’ personal 16mm print to recreate the original 1947 release. Ultimately, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock presents a fascinating collision between two distinct comedic sensibilities—a concoction of Lloyd’s slapstick physicality and Sturges’ screwball dialogue—that delivers one satisfyingly humorous romp.

—Russell Zych

35mm, b&w, in English, 89 min. Production: California Pictures Corp. Distribution: United Artists Corp./RKO Radio Pictures. Producer: Howard Hughes. Director: Preston Sturges. Screenwriter: Preston Sturges. Cinematographer: Robert Pittack, Curtis Courant. With: Harold Lloyd, Jimmy Conlin, Raymond Walburn, Rudy Vallée, Edgar Kennedy. Restoration funding provided by the Century Arts Foundation and The Packard Humanities Institute.

Restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive from a 35mm acetate composite fine grain and 16mm composite print. Laboratory services by Fotokem, The PHI Stoa Film Lab, Roundabout Entertainment, Inc., Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, Simon Daniel Sound. Special thanks to Tom Sturges, Juleen Compton, Nicholas Wentworth, NBCUniversal.