The Cat's Paw (1934) **

A conscious effort by Harold Lloyd to try something new.
His character is not called Harold, for the first time in one of his features - and it is also one of the very last Hollywood films to enjoy the liberty of pre-Code censorship (or lack thereof). There's very little of the traditional Harold to be seen here, except perhaps in his obtuseness (that gets more pronounced in the talkies), the sweetness of his naive courting of the leading lady (Una Merkel here: superb as ever), and in an amusing nightclub sequence, that strives for the same embarrassment-at-a-public-event effect that worked so well in The Freshman and Movie Crazy but is chiefly notable here for the eye-opening pre-Code outfits on the girls.
The big reason why the film is so interesting, however, is how it fits into the New Deal era 'Dictator Craze', with Lloyd as a Capra-esque naif accidentally elected Mayor of a big American city, discredited by a fabricated scandal, who decides to become a dictator, rounds up all of the neighbourhood criminals and forces them to confess under threat of decapitation! We get to see a convincing severed head and gory, oozing neck before we are let into the secret that it is all an illusion, a trick to get them to talk... nonetheless, this is one of those 1933-4 pro-Roosevelt movies that today get labelled 'Fascist' - occasionally by people who actually know what the word means. Capra is the film-maker you'd most be prepared to accept was behind the camera of The Cat's Paw if you didn't know better (it's Sam Taylor): it anticipates the screwball mode even while tapping into that Mussolini-admiring era of Hollywood/Washington paternalism that produced Gabriel Over the White House and The Power and the Glory.
And because it's Harold it's really charming and funny too. A true oddity, in fact: endlessly fascinating as a museum exhibit, as well as sufficiently stocked with conventional pleasures.