Sunday, January 13, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Safety Last! (1923)

I've now watched the first film on my list of 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.


Blogger Lasso The Movies said...

Laura, I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am that your silent film experience went well. I probably spend more time than most people watching the silent comedies and they never fail to make me laugh, loudly.
Harold Lloyd was the last silent comedian that I was able to see mostly because of the lack of availability of his films, but I have already really grow to enjoy his unique abilities. I find him to be completely different from Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin and that is a wonderful thing. I love getting to pick which of these three silent legends I watch based on which comedic mood I am in on a given day.
Thanks for the link to that website. I have already enjoyed a few of their location posts and I am sure I will be back there frequently and as always thanks for the link to my post. Until next time... happy watching!

8:47 AM  
Blogger LĂȘ said...

Larua, this will be my movie tonight, and the review will be posted next week in my blog.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much, Paul, it was fun to compare notes!

Best wishes,

11:32 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

That's great! Hope you enjoy it too. If I don't find it on my own please be sure to share the link with us here. :)

Best wishes,

11:33 AM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

I couldn't get my hands on a copy of Safety Last to join you but I have seen it before. I am so glad you liked it! Silents take some getting used to but I love them, especially the comedies with Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd in which physical action drives the story versus dialogue or plot.

I am afraid of heights too! I like the humor with heights in Safety Last and especially with Laurel & Hardy's short film Liberty (1929) which is my favorite of their films and one of my top favorite silents.

I'll definitely join you with the next movie!

11:34 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Raquel! I'm glad you've been able to enjoy SAFETY LAST! in the past. I also appreciate you sharing your recommendation for a favorite film with a similar theme with everyone; I'll keep that one in mind.

SAFETY LAST! is definitely a little harder to get ahold of! I'll likewise open up my next "10 Classics" film to link sharing in February and will choose a more easily accessible title, probably LITTLE CAESAR -- the disc is available from Netflix and it can be rented for streaming from Amazon for $2.99.

Best wishes,

11:47 AM  
Blogger Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Here's mine, Laura -- and now I'm calling it a day:

10:36 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Ivan! You wrote a terrific post -- left a long comment at your blog, but I loved the various angles you covered including how you came to love Harold Lloyd movies and the ideas that came together to form SAFETY LAST! I also enjoyed your thoughts on Lloyd's best films and his other "daredevil" comedies. So glad you could join me blogging about Harold Lloyd this month!

Best wishes,

11:00 PM  
Blogger VP81955 said...

Hope you also enjoy "Girl Shy," which I like a bit better because of its superb multimodal chase scene (horse, streetcar, auto and more) through 1924 Los Angeles. It's simply brilliant.

7:51 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, I'll definitely be watching GIRL SHY since it's part of this set! Since I love "vintage" location filming in general and L.A. location filming in particular, your comments have me even more interested!

Best wishes,

7:54 PM  

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