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SAFETY LAST! (1923)

Safety Last! - CoverThe Criterion Collection’ have recently released a digitally enhanced version of ‘Safety Last!’. It was directed by Sam Taylor and Fred C. Newmeye; it starred Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, and Bill Strother; and it lasts for 74-minutes. Plus, as an extra added bonus, the Blu-ray edition comes with an introduction by Lloyd’s granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd, audio commentary narrated by the film scholars, Leonard Maltin and Richard Correll, an interview with the composer, Carl Davis, as well as two documentaries and three newly restored Lloyd shorts: ‘Take a Chance’ (1918), ‘Young Mr. Jazz’ (1919), and ‘His Royal Slyness’ (1920). Please enjoy.


Safety Last! [Blu-ray]


THE STORY:
Do you know what, Bill (Bill Strother)? I’ve just come up with an amazing idea so the two of us can earn a bit more money. $1000, to be more precise, but only if you're willing to do something that’s daring, dangerous, and fairly normal for someone in your perilous profession... climb up the side of a very tall building. 

Well, as you know, ever since I first came to town, I’ve been working really, really hard at the local department store in order to save enough money to marry my childhood sweetheart, Mildred (Mildred Davis). But for some strange reason, I can’t seem to save as much as I would like, unless I can find a way of attracting more customers to shop at my place of work. Preferably, with someone like you, my death-defying friend, because my boss said that he’d pay $1000 to the first person who’d successfully spotlight his store. 

So, what do you say, Bill? Are you up for this or not? Are you willing to climb in the name of commerce? Either way, that’s most probably why what next transpires goes, up, up, and away, when Bill suddenly turns to me and says, ‘Harold (Harold Lloyd). Let’s do this!’. As a bride-to-be abruptly comes to town – a bumbling policeman turns into a right clown – a dangerous venture has a tough time getting off the ground – and at the end of the day, please remember, what goes up, must come down.




THE REVIEW:
According to the late, great, Harold Lloyd, he originally came up with the idea behind this film when he first saw a 'human-fly' act climbing up the side of the Brockman Building, situated in downtown Los Angeles. Initially, he wasn’t quite sure if he’d enjoy watching someone clamber up a tall, brick, edifice, because he presumed they would accidentally slip and fall. But then, when Harold started to see the numerous reactions of his fellow spectators, reactions that ranged from happy to sad to everything in between, he said to himself, ‘This would look great in a film’, and so eventually he hired the climber to help him make, ‘Safety Last!’.

Safety Last! - Harold and Bill
Well, if you haven’t guessed by now, Harold’s co-star, Bill Strother, was the climber in question, and more or less, he also doubled for Lloyd during certain sections of his now-famous cinematic climb (principally, those sections where you can see the crowd underneath him, looking up in amazement). As for the rest of Harold's climb, though? Well, between you and me, it was largely staged on three different rooftops of varying height, along with the use of a fake wall that blended in with its surroundings, a clever cameraman who captured the illusion of depth, and a daredevil actor who had an awful lot of guts. Or in other words, it was partly artificial, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it wasn’t enjoyable or captivating to watch. If anything, Harold's climb was so enjoyable to watch, the entire sequence has since become an inspiration for many other productions over the years. 

For instance, in Jackie Chan’s 1983 martial arts extravaganza, ‘Project A’, Jackie paid homage to Lloyd’s climb during a scene where he had to escape from a gang of crooks by falling from a very tall clock tower. Then in 1985, ‘Back to the Future’ (Part One) featured a ‘Safety Last!’ reference during a sequence where Doc Brown hung from a clock face as part of the final getaway. And similarly, several other productions have also admitted to reinterpreting Lloyd’s iconic idea, such as the 1991 comedy, ‘Oscar’, starring Sylvester Stallone, or the 2011 melodrama, ‘Hugo', directed by Martin Scorsese, to name but a few.


Safety Last! - Jackie Chan and Harold Lloyd


Now, in regards to the overall construction of this film, and in retrospect, I’d say the basic storyline comes across as a fairly straightforward rom-com. A rom-com where we see Harold (our main star) travel from his hometown all the way to the big bad city so he can earn enough money to marry his fianceé, Mildred. Once he gets there, though, we start to discover that he hates his newly acquired job (working in a rather nice department store), he hates not having enough money (mainly because he spends most of it buying gifts for his girlfriend), and he hates lying to her about his fictitious lifestyle (meaning, he writes letters to Mildred saying that he's doing a lot better than he actually is). So, to turn things around, Harold eventually comes up with a plan that unintentionally leads him to climb up the side of a very tall building, and the rest, as they say, is history... film history. 

Safety Last! - Harold Lloyd
Anyway, that’s enough of that for the time being, because I think now is a pretty good time for us to sit back, relax, and check out the following filmic facts: (1) ‘Pathé’ first released this $121,000 production in America on the 1st of April, 1923, and eventually clawed back $1.5 million at the Box Office. (2) Harold Lloyd married his co-star, Mildred Davis, after they made this film and before it was released. Or to be more specific about it, they got married on the 10th of February, 1923, and the two of them stayed together until her untimely death in 1969. (3) Loosely translated, this project was entitled, ‘Get on it!’ in France, ‘Mother, Courage!' in Greece, and ‘Up Through the Air’ in Sweden. (4) One of the taglines used to promote this picture, states, ‘You're Going to Explode With "Safety Laughs" when You see This Fun Bomb’. (5) The majority of this movie was shot on location throughout the Californian city of Los Angeles. This includes such places as the Majestic Theatre, the Great Bend Railway Station, the Atlantic Hotel, the Brockman Building, the Stock Exchange, the International Bank Building, Blackstone's Californian Finest Store, as well as select parts of Broadway and Culver City. (6) Near the start of this story, we see Harold Lloyd getting paid $15 for one week's work, which in today’s money [2020] roughly equates to $228. (7) In 1994, the Library of Congress selected this film to be a part of the ‘National Film Registry’, and then in 2019, it was entered into the public domain. (8) Anna Townsend made her last silver screen appearance in this movie by playing the old woman who struggled to buy some fabric. Previously, she co-starred with Harold in ‘Grandma's Boy’, released in 1922.


Safety Last! - Harold Lloyd And Customers


In closing my review of ‘Safety Last!’, I would just like to say something else about this film which I really, really enjoyed. Namely, it's humor, particularly how it was used in such a smart and creative fashion. Well, on the one hand, some of the gags nicely established a location or a person’s personality (as seen in that spirited sequence where Harold hastily rushes to work). While on the other hand, certain jokes either set-up a plot point or reinforced a character’s motivation (as illustrated halfway through the film when Harold proposes to his partner). 

Safety Last! - Harold Lloyd and Mildred Davis
What’s more, there's a considerable amount of visual humor on display as well. Visual humor which basically broke up the narrative so the audience could spend some more time with the three principal players. Harold (the hero), or as I would like to call him, the most upbeat idiot in the entire world. Mildred (the girlfriend), who’s cute, kind, and craves cash and comfort. And finally, there’s Bill (the pal), otherwise known as the 'human-fly' who inadvertently inspired an iconic image that’s lasted for nearly a century. 

Well, let’s face it, the sight of a gangly young man hanging from a clock face that’s attached to the side of a tall, tall skyscraper, can be reinterpreted in a number of different ways. I mean, to some, this image might represent humankind’s own internal struggle with the very fabric of time, while to others, it might signify the beginning of the end. Or should that be, the end of the beginning? Either way, this movie was amazing, truly amazing, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves silent film, comedy, Harold Lloyd, and hair-raising stunts that are original, innovative, and relentlessly fast-paced. Here, check out this clip kindly given to us by 'Criterion' to see what I mean.




THE RATING: A

SAFETY LAST! (1923) SAFETY LAST! (1923) Reviewed by David Andrews on September 14, 2020 Rating: 5

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