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A clever scenario brilliantly told, Safety Last! (1923) is a gem incomedian Harold Lloyd's classic comic oeuvre packed with endlesslyimaginative sight gags. From the opening bit where The Boy (Lloyd) appears to bebehind jail bars, apparently waiting to trudge off to the hangman (heis actually behind the gate at a train station), Safety Last! is asuccession of buoyant, cleverly conceived visual japes. These comic larksillustrate the powers of the imagination to counteract the humdrum andoppressive circumstances of modern living that made Lloyd a consistentlypopular everyman hero of the silent age.
Lloyd stars as a naive lad from the small town of Great Bend, in love with aGirl (Mildred Davis, Lloyd's real-life wife) whose heart is tied to hispurse strings. The Boy sets off for the big city and dreams of wealth, butonce in the shining metropolis finds himself scrambling to pay the rentwhile slaving away as a department store clerk. In daily letters back hometo his fiance the Boy pretends that he is a financial tycoon, a situationfrom which Lloyd draws innumerable gags.
Always anxious to please, Lloyd's comic persona in Safety Last! wasthat of an eager worker in bookish spectacles and straw boater whoseefforts to perform the basic chores of daily life are continuallysabotaged. Safety Last! is considered to be among Lloyd's finestpictures, and it shattered many a box office record upon its originalrelease. Safety Last! also featured one of the most famous images inmovie history, of Lloyd dangling from the hands of an enormous clock at thetop of a Los Angeles high-rise, an image familiar even to those who havenever seen the film.
The clock face stunt was inspired by Bill Strothers' performance of a similar human fly act, discovered by Lloyd while walking in Los Angeles one day. Strothers' grand finale to the stunt involved him riding a bicycle alongthe rooftop's edge and then standing on his head on a flagpole. Lloyd wasdeeply impressed by the event, remarking, "It made such a terrificimpression on me, and stirred my emotions."
Lloyd immediately placed Strothers under contract at the Hal Roach studio,and cast him in Safety Last! as "Limpy Bill," the Boy's loveableroommate and construction worker who also has human flycapabilities.
Many of the interior scenes for Safety Last! were shot at the L.A.department store Ville de Paris, which was owned by a close friend ofproducer Hal Roach. Each evening when the store closed the crew would setup their equipment and then work during the midnight hours.
Like the hayseed Boy, Lloyd hailed from a small town -- Burchard, Nebraska-- and his humble beginnings inspired him to work aggressively for hissuccess in Hollywood. Lloyd's film debut was in a 1913 Edison Companypicture as an Indian, a bit part that netted the first-time actor threedollars. Working with independent producer Hal Roach as his first realstar, Lloyd later devised his first comedic invention, Lonesome Luke, acharacter loosely tailored around Charlie Chaplin's successful Tramp. Lukewas featured in around 70 films before Lloyd became bored with that comicpersona and created a new, highly profitable incarnation, as the spectacles-wearing everyman he called "the glasses character."
That character was featured in Lloyd's popular films of the Twenties,including Girl Shy (1924), The Freshman (1925), ForHeaven's Sake (1926) and The Kid Brother (1927), films whichwere hyped in the trade papers with the tag "It's a Lloyd film -- that'senough." A highly adaptable comic character, this man with glasses had theconsistent features of ambition and optimism, but could change dramaticallyfrom film to film: a rich man in one film, a poor one in the next. Whatremained consistent was the well-oiled pace and economical gags of theLloyd style of comedy that made him one of the most successful entertainersof his day.
Director: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor
Producer: Hal Roach
Screenplay: Tim Whelan, Sam Taylor, H.M. Walker, Jean C. Havez
Cinematography: Walter Lundin
Production Design: Fred Guiol
Cast: Harold Lloyd (The Boy), Mildred Davis (The Girl), Bill Strothers (The Pal: Limpy Bill), Noah Young (The Law), Westcott Clarke (The Floorwalker: Mr. Stubbs).
by Felicia Feaster