10 Classics for 2013 -- SAFETY LAST! (1923), a silent comedy starring Harold Lloyd.
One of the reasons I put SAFETY LAST! on my list is that I never watch silent movies and thought it would be good to challenge myself to see at least a couple this year. I've always found the narrative cards a challenge, inasmuch as I'm an extremely fast reader and find the "dead" time the card lingers on the screen after I've read it annoying. And when it comes to comedy, I like witty verbal wordplay, and of course there's not a lot of that going on in a silent film.
My father suggested I try SAFETY LAST! because he thought there might be fewer intertitle cards due to the film being so physical, plus he also thought Lloyd's smart humor would appeal to me. Lloyd's location shooting in Los Angeles is also a plus for someone such as myself who is especially interested in that topic. And I've been intrigued by seeing Lloyd's name honored in various places at my daughter's alma mater, USC, including a soundstage and a lobby in the Spielberg Building.
I'm happy to say the experiment was a success and I really enjoyed SAFETY LAST! Despite the lack of spoken words, I found it quite witty, starting with the opening visual gag at the train station, followed by Harold attempting to get on a train. Shortly thereafter there was a scene where Harold and his roommate hide from their landlady which I thought was extremely clever and cemented my interest.
The humor wasn't the simplistic pie-in-the-face type of physical humor which I find tedious, but very well-thought-out set pieces with many layers, each gradually building to a crescendo. I was also pleased that there didn't seem to be a great many narrative cards, and I liked that some of the cards were amusing in and of themselves.
SAFETY LAST! is about a young man named Harold (Lloyd) who leaves his small town to make good in the big city, promising to send for his sweetheart once he's a success. "The Girl" is played by Mildred Davis, who married Lloyd the same year; they remained together until her passing in 1969.
Harold is a low-paid department store clerk but goes without eating in order to send his beloved some beautiful jewelry. She mistakenly assumes he is "in the money" and heads to the city to surprise Harold and get married. When his sweetheart arrives, Harold manages to keep her from learning that he does not have a position of importance, and he hopes to earn money for their wedding with an unusual stunt...
The department store provides material for any number of funny scenes, my favorite being when Harold shows his sweetheart his "office." I loved when he accidentally pushed the buttons on the desk and an assortment of employees showed up, which he shrugs off to "the girl" as a fire drill!
The movie is justly famous for the final sequence, which finds Harold climbing the department store building; the scene with Lloyd hanging from the clock has become iconic. As someone who's not fond of heights, this sequence was almost hard for me to watch! I stuck with it and really enjoyed and admired it, even though I cringed and gasped each time Harold would wobble or fall.
A website I recently found has a number of interesting posts on SAFETY LAST! including the Downtown Los Angeles locations and a PowerPoint presentation on "How Harold Lloyd Filmed Safety Last!" I hope to learn more about Lloyd and the movie via this site as well as the DVD extras.
SAFETY LAST! was directed by Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor. Bill Strother plays "The Pal" and Noah Young plays "The Law." Co-director Fred Newmeyer is the driver who gets a parking ticket early in the film. The movie runs 73 minutes.
SAFETY LAST! is available on DVD in the Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection, Vol. 1. Extras include a commentary track with Leonard Maltin. The other titles in Vol. 1 include GIRL SHY (1924), THE CAT'S-PAW (1934), and THE MILKY WAY (1936).
It's also had a release on VHS.
In closing, I'd like to renew my invitation of a few days ago -- if anyone else would like to blog about SAFETY LAST! or Harold Lloyd anytime in January, please send me the link via comments or email and I will include your link at the end of this post! I will also send out a Tweet anytime I update the post with a new link.
When I posted my "10 Classics" list earlier this month, Paul of Lasso the Movies mentioned he had just seen SAFETY LAST! for the first time in 2012. Here's Paul's review! I liked his point that Lloyd wasn't going for the quick laugh, but that each scene is planned in order to build to the next.
I'd love to have others join me enjoying this classic silent comedy.
Update: Here's a terrific post by Ivan at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, "Loco Boy Makes Good." (Love that apt title!) Ivan discusses how he came to enjoy Harold Lloyd movies and then moves on to his thoughts on Lloyd's movies in general, and SAFETY LAST! in particular. Thanks for this informative contribution, Ivan!
Update: Leticia, a film fan from Brazil, has posted her thoughts on seeing SAFETY LAST! for the first time at Critica Retro. I love that the Internet makes it possible for classic film fans to bridge distance and even language -- there's a handy translator widget on her blog page! -- to share our love for classic movies. It was wonderful to share the joy of seeing this film for the very first time with Leticia -- I loved her description of Harold as a "man lizard"! Thanks for joining me, Leticia!
Update: SAFETY LAST! will be coming out from the Criterion Collection on June 18, 2013.