Safety Last - A Marvel From The Silent Era

                            The 1920's were the prosperous years for silent comedies, and the inspired products of that period are among the silent screen's finest offerings. Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton stood atop the tower of Silent era comedians, but there were also Harold Lloyd, the bespectacled character in the silent films. Harold Lloyd's movies are less known by the people than those of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, therefore it's easy to ignore that he was of the same talent as those comic greats and his films were immensely popular at the time. The straw-hat-wearing comedian and Everyman hero, Lloyd had no melancholia in his films, but may have have lacked the depth of Chaplin and Keaton. 

                      Harold made fine films that looks more amazing, when realizing that he did his own stunts with some courageous cameramen that didn't rely on special effects.In 1919, due to a serious injury Harold lost a part of his thumb, a finger, and palm. He did fewer films after 1919 and covered his injured hand with a glove or prosthetic. However, Harold Lloyd will forever be commemorated due to the striking image of the bespectacled actor hanging from the skyscraper clock above the busy street was made in 1923--Safety Last!

        Like a typical Harold Lloyd story, Safety Last is about an average guy's attempts to scale the heights of romantic love and professional success. In this film, he is known as the "boy." The 'boy' leaves his sweetheart (Mildred Davis) in the country, going to the city and obtains a $15-a-week position as a sales clerk in a department store. For the next few months, he writes her of his success as a quickly rising executive, although he is in fact only a common clerk. One day, Mildred pays a surprise visit to the department store where Harold works. By means of a desperate series of unrehearsed ploys, the boy manages to maintain his lofty image in the girl's eyes.

              Realizing that he must make up with the situation,  he jumps at the offer of $1,000 by the store's manager if he devises a publicity gimmick to attract crowds of people to the store. He thereby hires his roommate, Bill, to perform a stunt as a human fly on the outside of the twelve-story store. When the time for the big event arrives, so does a policeman who is after Bill for a recent indiscretion. To avoid arrest, Bill instructs Harold to begin the ascent in his place, promising to replace his pal when Harold reaches the second floor. 

              Then comes the big set piece that occupies more or less the film's entire third act, and is so amazing that it threatens to blot the rest of the movie out of one's mind. The clock-hanging scene certainly makes a great image since Lloyd's precarious position is framed beautifully, but other stunts are actually even more breath taking.

                Even though the film has become an icon due to that incredible climax act, it's well worth checking out all 73 minutes, especially if you have a chance to see the newly restored version. Lloyd's faultless timing and writer Hal Roach's productions flair for sight gags also plays a major part in the enjoyment. Lloyd's methodical way of escaping the landlady when rent come due is absolutely hilarious. Safety Last was not the first film in which Lloyd performed his human fly act, nor would it be his last, but it is the one every one remembers.

                The real inspiration for that final set piece happened, when Lloyd witnessed Bill Strothers, a local daredevil known as "The Human Spider," scale a 12-story office building Los Angeles. The "human spider" was cast as the Lloyd characters' roommate. He provides the impulse for the plot to unfold. The crew built sets on top of a skyscraper and then positioned the camera so that the roof below could not be seen. The illusion requires some very slick cinematography and direction from Harold Lloyd Company regulars Fred Newmeyer, and Sam Taylor.
               The movie also dealt with working class challenges, by some of the fast paced scenes. It showed Harold hanging onto a streetcar, hopping into automobiles, riding in the back of an ambulance so that he can make it to work on time.  

             Safety Last holds up across all generations, including young people who think they don't like black and white films. It is the classic crowd-pleaser, and a part of movie history the most lovers of the medium should recognize right away. 

Harold Lloyd's Iconic Scene From 'Safety Last'

   Safety Last! - IMDb


Meoww said...

I do love all these old b&w movies. They possess some sort of glamour. This particularly seems to be a fun movie to watch. Will keep it in my mind.

Haricharan Pudipeddi said...

Will have to check this one now. Seems funny and I'm a great fan of the B&W era. Good one

Unknown said...

Black and white movies are inspiration. Those were the days.

Arun Kumar said...

@Meoww, Thanks for the comment. This is the funniest movie, on the ranges of Charlie Chaplin movies.

@Haricharan, Thanks for the comment, and check it out soon.

@Shalu Sharma, Thanks for the comment.