Movie Name: Safety Last!
Studio: Hal Roach Studios
Release Date(s): April 1, 1923
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Harold (Harold Lloyd) aka “The Boy” has moved from Great Bend to the big city in the hopes of making a career for himself and become financially secure to win the heart of his love Mildred (Mildred Davis) aka “The Girl”. Working at a upscale department store in the fabric department, Harold must find a way to increase his income. When he comes up with a ploy for his friend to scale the department store building, it could be Harold’s chance at money…but a misunderstanding involving a police officer means Harold is in the hot seat himself!
Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, Safety Last! is a Hal Roach produced silent comedy. The film was released to critical acclaim and big box office returns. The movie was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1994 and frequently makes the “Best Of” lists for comedies.
I have to really focus on silent films, and sometimes, the style and the humor is lost in that the pathetically short attention spans most of society today (myself included). I decided to check out some of Lloyd’s stuff (since they are classics) and Lloyd’s silent pictures, like Chaplin and Keaton, are much easier to watch simply because Lloyd is so expressive.
The plot for the movie is virtually nonexistent. Lloyd likes a girl and tries to woo her…bottom line. It isn’t really the often the plots of silent movies that drive them but the spectacle and the actors within them. It is usually situation comedy that seems to dominate these films and Lloyd’s scaling of the building takes up a large chunk of the end of the film.
Lloyd is what makes the movie work. He’s very physical (he did most of his own stunts), and he doesn’t look like a physical guy in general. Lloyd looks like a nerd or an uptight New England aristocrat in his straw hat and suit, but he’s the one clinging to the building and swinging from ropes…he’s really the average guy in a world now populated by muscle bound action stars and rubber face comedians.
The visuals for the movie are also stellar. You have to keep reminding yourself while watching Safety Last! that special effects were rather minimal at the time. When Lloyd is climbing the building he actually is on top a building…but it is an illusion. A fake building was built on top of the building to make it look like he was on the side of the building and stunt doubles were used, but it is still fun and looks real because of its age (it is also fun to see old downtown LA…around 9th and Broadway).
Safety Last! is a fun, quick watch. Don’t go in expecting a plot, but go in for a classic film that has had lasting influence in the industry. Lloyd hanging from the clock face has been parodied, redone, and emulated over and over again, but don’t forget that a full length movie is also attached to the image…and it is worth seeking out.