Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Review - Safety Last! (1923 - Dir. Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor)

It's a silent film. It's black and white. And it's in a 4:3 ratio. It's about as ye olde fashioned as you get without it being shown on a zoetrope. And it's really rather good.

Harold Lloyd (played by the similarly monikered Harold Lloyd) is a small town kind of guy who moves to the big city to find his fortune and pay for a lovely wedding for his bride to be. Things don't go to plan and he ends up living with his buddy, "Limpy" Bill in a small flat. But he comes up with a crafty scheme to get rich quick. (I don't know why he's called "Limpy" because he doesn't have a limp.) "Limpy" is a bit nifty when it comes to climbing buildings so Harold sets it up so that he can climb up the outside of the department store where he works. Again things don't go to plan.

After a cleverly shot start things kick off with the story and some impressive physical comedy (Jackie Chan must have been influenced by some of this stuff). For example, Harold and "Limpy" pretend to be coats on a coat rack to avoid their landlady. 

The whole of the first half is setting up the reasons why Harold would be motivated to climb the building himself in the latter stages of the film. And very carefully set up it is too. As my mum always says, "Everything happens for a reason." That's certainly true here. The first half also shows how resourceful Harold can be in a variety of situations. He's constantly lurching from one scrape to another but he always manages to come good. 

There are some early visual effects that are used to further the story rather than just fluffy eye sweets. At one point Harold eyes up a gorgeous business man's lunch that's being advertised in a local restaurant. Alas he's also seen a necklace for his sweetheart. We know it's meant for her because her face appears in the centre of said piece of jewellery. Then as he puts each coin down to pay for the necklace, one item disappears from the plate of the business man's lunch. So without any words the story is conveyed in a very crafty manner.

Then we get to the second half of the film: the climb. Now I'm afraid of heights and the last half hour is pure torture for me. If torture was fun. My hands go all clammy as I watch because he's actually up at that height climbing the building. (Okay, there is a bit of trickery in there, that I won't spoil for you, but even so it looks completely terrifying.) There are so many incidents on the way up and it goes on for ages and ages. The tension never lapses. He gets attacked by pigeons accompanied by some very Psycho-like music. A mouse goes up his trouser leg and makes him do an amusing little dance on a narrow ledge. Then there's the whole malarkey based around the iconic clock face. It's amazing how many problems they wring out of one simple thing. All in all it's a cracking sequence.

If you don't feel the need to watch this yet bear in mind that there is a scene where a drunk gets netted. Well, not exactly netted by the police or another government agency, but a net does fall on him causing some entrapment.

I had to buy the definitive Harold Lloyd collection to get this. It was a good move though because every film has been pretty good so far (as long as you can put up with a fair bit of political incorrectness). Well worth tracking down. (Don't take my word for it. I took a class of 11 year olds to see Hugo and they were completely bored all the way through - as I was - apart from the clip from this very film. They were literally on the edges of their little seats.)

If you like this you could also try:
Girl Shy, The Cat's-Paw.


  1. I'm happy you enjoyed Safety Last! I loved it. So many great scenes. That height climb is super realistic. I look forward to checking out Harold Lloyd's other work.
    Don't think I even finished Hugo, agree it was a bore.

    Merry Christmas to you and Doccortex!

    1. I've seen about six of his films so far and they've all been good, not necessarily full of stunts, but still funny. I think it cost me about £30 for all of them which is fantastic value.

      Yep, Hugo wasn't worth it. You did right.

      Good to see you back blogging Chris and have a great Christmas!