Cast & Crew
Westcott B. Clarke
The Boy, Harold Lloyd, bids farewell to his mother and The Girl, his fiancée Mildred, at the train station in his home town, Great Bend. Harold promises Mildred he will send for her as soon as he finds success in the big city and, after several mishaps, boards the train. A few months later in the city, Harold admits to his best friend and roommate, Limpy Bill, that he pawned their phonograph and record albums to buy Mildred a gold pendant, and consequently, they now have no money for rent. In Great Bend, Mildred is delighted by his gift and the accompanying letter, in which she learns that Harold has a prestigious position at the De Vore Department Store. In truth, Harold is a salesclerk. One day, he nearly misses work when the delivery truck in which he is sitting takes off and does not stop until it is on the other side of the city. Harold then rushes to find swift transportation home, first by clinging to the edge of an overloaded streetcar and then jumping into a stranger's automobile. He finally fakes an injury in order to get a ride in an ambulance, and then astonishes the attendant when he pretends to awaken and instructs the driver to stop near the store. After seeing a co-worker nearly lose his job because of tardiness, Harold poses as a mannequin and is carried into the store, thereby avoiding the watchful floor manager, Mr. Stubbs. On Saturday after work, Harold encounters Jim Taylor, an old neighbor from Great Bend, who is now a policeman. While Jim makes a telephone call, Harold tells Bill that police let him get away with anything, and convinces Bill to help him trip Jim. However, Harold does not notice that Jim has been replaced by another patrolman. This policeman is so angered by the prank that he chases Bill, an agile construction worker, up the side of a building while Harold hides. Bill safely reaches the roof and eludes the patrolman, who vows to arrest him at their next encounter. Harold later spends his entire paycheck on a necklace for Mildred's pendant. When she receives it, his mother urges her to immediately visit Harold in the city. Mildred arrives shortly after a frenzied fabric sale at the store, during which Harold was reprimanded by Stubbs for his unkempt appearance. Surprised by Mildred's visit, Harold attempts to act like a supervisor, and bewilders his co-workers with his behavior. Shortly thereafter, Harold is summoned to the general manager's office where he receives an official reprimand about his attire. When Mildred sees him exiting the office, however, she assumes it is his office and insists on going inside. Harold distracts her until the general manager leaves, then takes her inside, where they experiment with the paging machine. When Stubbs comes to the office as a result of the page, Harold hides behind a large piece of paper, and impersonating the manager, orders Stubbs to refrain from complaining about their employees' attire. When the general manager returns, Harold tells Mildred to sit, close her eyes and open her mouth. As a result, Harold tricks the manager into believing that Harold is helping an incapacitated woman. Mildred forgets her purse in the office and when Harold returns for it, he overhears the manager exclaim that he would pay a thousand dollars for a new advertising idea. Harold boldly proposes to draw crowds the very next day by having a "mystery man" climb up the exterior side of the building. Later, Bill agrees to climb the building when Harold offers to split the fee with him. The next day, the store is surrounded by expectant crowds who have heard of the stunt through the newspapers. When Bill is detained by the policeman on whom they pulled their earlier prank, he urges Harold to climb to the second floor in his place, by which time he expects to elude the cop and replace Harold. Harold reluctantly agrees but when he reaches the second floor, the policeman is still chasing Bill. Harold unsteadily climbs floor after floor, but Bill never loses his pursuer. Although Harold nearly falls several times, and at one point perilously clings to the hands of a large clock, he eventually reaches the roof ledge, where his foot catches in a rope and he is swung upside down several times. When he lands on the rooftop, he is greeted with a kiss from a relieved Mildred. Harold then sees Bill still being pursued by the policeman across the rooftops. Harold and Mildred walk to the door leading to the stairs, and he unintentionally steps out of his shoes when they get stuck in a puddle of tar.
Westcott B. Clarke
C. E. Christensen
C. E. Christensen
T. J. Crizer
Robert A. Golden
Fred L. Guiol
Fred L. Guiol
J. L. Murphy
J. L. Murphy
H. M. Walker
Lloyd stars as a naive lad from the small town of Great Bend, in love with a Girl (Mildred Davis, Lloyd's real-life wife) whose heart is tied to his purse strings. The Boy sets off for the big city and dreams of wealth, but once in the shining metropolis finds himself scrambling to pay the rent while slaving away as a department store clerk. In daily letters back home to his fiance the Boy pretends that he is a financial tycoon, a situation from which Lloyd draws innumerable gags.
Always anxious to please, Lloyd's comic persona in Safety Last! was that of an eager worker in bookish spectacles and straw boater whose efforts to perform the basic chores of daily life are continually sabotaged. Safety Last! is considered to be among Lloyd's finest pictures, and it shattered many a box office record upon its original release. Safety Last! also featured one of the most famous images in movie history, of Lloyd dangling from the hands of an enormous clock at the top of a Los Angeles high-rise, an image familiar even to those who have never 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 along the rooftop's edge and then standing on his head on a flagpole. Lloyd was deeply impressed by the event, remarking, "It made such a terrific impression 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 loveable roommate and construction worker who also has human fly capabilities.
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 of producer Hal Roach. Each evening when the store closed the crew would set up 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 his success in Hollywood. Lloyd's film debut was in a 1913 Edison Company picture as an Indian, a bit part that netted the first-time actor three dollars. Working with independent producer Hal Roach as his first real star, Lloyd later devised his first comedic invention, Lonesome Luke, a character loosely tailored around Charlie Chaplin's successful Tramp. Luke was featured in around 70 films before Lloyd became bored with that comic persona 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), For Heaven's Sake (1926) and The Kid Brother (1927), films which were hyped in the trade papers with the tag "It's a Lloyd film -- that's enough." A highly adaptable comic character, this man with glasses had the consistent features of ambition and optimism, but could change dramatically from film to film: a rich man in one film, a poor one in the next. What remained consistent was the well-oiled pace and economical gags of the Lloyd style of comedy that made him one of the most successful entertainers of 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
Safety Last on Blu-ray
Lloyd plays the small town swell trying to make good in the big city, putting on a show of success for his girl back home while scraping by as a department store at the fabrics counter, still waiting for his big break. He's simply called "The Boy" in the credits but his pay stub puts his name right out there -- Harold Lloyd -- and why not? It's a familiar variation in his repertoire as "the glasses character," as he called the persona defined by his distinctive horn-rimmed glasses and Horatio Alger spirit. Whether rural or urban, he was the everyman trying to make his way in the world and win the girl. All of the great silent comics pretty created a defining screen character which they dropped into different situations. As popular as Chaplin and Keaton and even more successful financially, Lloyd was the modern man of the big three, the bright young man of the jazz age trying to carve out his piece of the American dream. Lloyd didn't take directing or writing credit (Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor share the directing title card and Keystone komedy king Hal Roach is one of the screenwriters), but at this point in his fast-rising career he was, like Chaplin and Keaton, very much in charge of his films. He developed the stories, helped design the stunts, and made sure the production looked big and handsome and impressive.
His first three features had been successful, but Safety Last! was his first "thrill feature" and it was a big hit, thanks to the daredevil stunt comedy of Lloyd scaling a downtown office building, fumbling and fighting with obstacles all the way. Apart from long shots featuring stuntman Bill Strother, a real-life human fly who also co-stars as "The Pal," it is Lloyd himself scrambling up the bricks and cornices and much of the effect of the thrill comedy rests on the careful design and execution of these sequences. There is no rear projection here. Lloyd really is as high above the city as he looks, thanks to sets and façades built on the rooftops of Los Angeles buildings, chosen to bring him every higher with each successive scene. You can see the change in location from the shifting city view, a continuity error that few noticed because all eyes were on Lloyd in the foreground. Shooting in the bright sunlight of Los Angeles, Lloyd's longtime cameraman Walter Lundin keeps the bustle of the city background in focus and, more importantly, chooses angles that gives is a great sense of depth, looking down long avenues that stretch into the distance, giving the weight of real life to the slapstick fantasy while emphasizes the heights scaled with each successive floor. Lloyd was committed to that kind of precision and attention to detail. Safety Last!, made on his biggest budget yet, is visually crisp and handsome from start to finish.
Forgotten in the cascade of sight gags set against the danger of the climb is the workplace comedy of the first half. Kicking off the film with one of most perfectly executed pieces of gallows humor deftly undercut with a simple reverse shot and a subtle change of tempo, Lloyd slips into the role of the harried working man, on the one hand bright and eager and determined to prove himself, on the other a bad luck wise guy constantly ducking the wrath of the pinched floorwalker (Westcott Clarke), ever keeping his eye on our young hero. His scrapes are not always of his own making but when his girl (Mildred Davis) comes to see his great business success, he's stuck with his lies and plays the big shot under the nose of his nemesis.
Some of his ingenious ideas are comedy magic, turning cultural clichés into witty visual gags (many of them revolving around the near-riot of matronly women giving pro wrestling a run for its money in the chaos of a department store sale), and are just as masterfully executed as the comic stunts of his climb. (He also falls back on some tired racial stereotypes, like the superstitious black janitor who cowers in comic fear when Lloyd, posing as a mannequin, suddenly comes to life, or the Jewish pawn shop owner who sees an easy mark in Lloyd.) Other smart-aleck antics in this film are more rooted in braggadocio (playing the big shot for an old buddy) and sneaky behavior (tricking a drunk to kick a cop in the pants) and tend to leave others holding the bag, a sensibility that undercuts his plucky underdog status. Not unlike Chaplin, in some cases, but where The Little Tramp was something of a force of chaos and social upheaval, Lloyd is forever trying to fit in and excel. That balance of hubris and humility is more finely tuned in subsequent films like Girl Shy and Hot Water, but it results in some brilliant comedy sequences here. It also shows Lloyd as the embodiment of his era, a resolutely contemporary man, dressed for success, fast thinking and, above all, ambitious. Chaplin and Keaton were always out of step with the world, but audiences could see themselves in Lloyd. He just wanted his shot to make good, and if he had to cut a few corners or duck responsibility for another mess, that was the price of success.
Safety Last! was previously available in a DVD box set of Lloyd features and short from New Line. Criterion's new edition is mastered from a 2K film restoration from a 35mm nitrate print from the Harold Lloyd Estate (Lloyd was careful to preserve all of his films) at a rate of 22 frames per second and is accompanied by the rollicking jazz-age score that Carl Davis composed and conducted for the 1989 Kevin Brownlow restoration. It remains one of my favorite original silent movie scores, matching the film with the swinging urban energy that Lloyd embodies, and the bright recording is presented in uncompressed stereo. It also offers an alternate organ score by Gaylord Carter from 1969 (in mono).
The feature is accompanied by commentary by film critic Leonard Maltin and Harold Lloyd archivist Richard Correll (carried over from the previous DVD release) and three additional restored Lloyd shorts - "Take a Chance" (1918), "Young Mr. Jazz" (1919), and "His Royal Slyness" (1920) are included (with commentary by Correll and film writer John Bengtson). There's a video introduction by Suzanne Lloyd, Lloyd's granddaughter and president of Harold Lloyd Entertainment, a new interview with composer Carl Davis, and a featurette on the locations and special effects with film writer John Bengtson and special effects expert Craig Barron. The most valuable extra is not new, per se, but it is new to disc: Kevin Brownlow and David Gill's excellent 108-minute Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius, a detailed 1989 documentary on the life, career, and art of Lloyd originally made for British TV and shown on PBS in the U.S. An accompanying booklet features an essay by critic Ed Park and notes on the transfer.
By Sean Axmaker
Safety Last on Blu-ray
Harold Lloyd first tested the safety precautions for the clock stunt by dropping a dummy onto the mattress below. The dummy bounced off and plummeted to the street below.
In 1919 Harold Lloyd was handed what he thought was a prop bomb, which he lit with his cigarette. The bomb turned out to be real. It exploded, blowing off Lloyd's right thumb, index finger, and putting him in the hospital for months. When he recovered, Lloyd went back to making movies, wearing a white glove while on screen to hide his damaged right hand. He did his stunts in "Safety Last" and "Feet First" - dangling from ledges, clocks, and windows - using only eight fingers.
This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1994.
Harold Lloyd got the idea for the film when he saw Bill Strother climbing the Brockman Building in Los Angeles as a stunt one day. Lloyd - who had a difficult time watching anyone else performing a dangerous stunt because he had no control over that situation - hid behind a corner, peeking to check on Strother's progress every few moments. After Strother reached the roof, Lloyd went up and introduced himself.
During the famous clock tower stunt, Lloyd is not as far from the ground as he appears. The building on which he climbs was actually a fake wall constructed on the top of a genuine skyscraper and skillfully photographed to maintain the illusion.
The film's footage is listed variously as 6,114 ft., 6,300 ft. or approximately 6,400 ft. Safety Last! was one of comedian Harold Lloyd's most popular films. The image of Lloyd hanging from the hands of a giant clock became a trademark for him. A July 1923 article in Photoplay notes the following about the production: Although Lloyd performed most of his own stunts, a double was used in long shots, and a circus performer was used in the scene in which he dangles from a rope. The buildings were of varying heights and sets were constructed on the roofs to match the exterior of the primary building, so that it appeared as if Lloyd was climbing a single building all the way up. Modern sources add the following: Lloyd was inspired to include a climbing scene in a film after watching Bill Strother, a real-life steeplejack, climb the side of a Los Angeles building as a stunt. Lloyd later hired Strother to perform in his film. The climbing in Safety Last! was filmed using a series of buildings from 1st Street to 9th Street in Los Angeles, CA, including the International Bank Building at the corner of Temple St. and Spring St. Although Lloyd did much of his own climbing, Strother doubled for him in several sequences. The character name "Limpy Bill" reportedly came into use after Strother broke his leg just prior to filming. According to modern sources, Safety Last! included the following additional cast: Charles Stevenson (Ambulance attendant and Laundry man), Gus Leonard (Office worker), Helen Gilmore (Customer), Fred Newmeyer (Man in car), Earl Mohan (Drunk), Richard Daniels (Man in sale), Wallace Howe (Man with flowers), Roy Brooks and James T. Kelley.
Released in United States Spring April 1, 1923
Released in United States 1982
Released in United States November 1989
Released in United States 2015
Shown at London Film Festival November 10-26, 1989.
Released in United States Spring April 1, 1923
Released in United States 1982 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition ("Marathon of Mirth": Comedy Maratho) March 16 - April 1, 1982.)
Released in United States November 1989 (Shown at London Film Festival November 10-26, 1989.)
Selected in 1994 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Released in United States 2015 (Cinema's Legacy)