(director/writer: Fred C. Newmeyer/Sam Taylor; screenwriters: Sam Taylor/Hal Roach/Tim Whelan/H.M. Walker/Jean C. Havez; cinematographer: Walter Lundin; editor: Fred Guiol; cast: Harold Lloyd (The Boy), Mildred Davis (The Girl), Bill Strothers (The Pal, Limpy Bill), Noah Young (The Law), W.B. Clarke (The Floorwalker), Mickey Daniels (The Kid); Runtime: 77; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hal Roach; Hal Roach Productions/Pathé; 1923-silent)
“Might be the best film of acclaimed comedian Harold Lloyd’s silent film days.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Safety Last might be the best film of acclaimed comedian Harold Lloyd’s silent film days. Lloyd’s films are less known by the public than those of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, therefore it’s easy to ignore that he was of the same talent as those comic greats and his films were immensely popular at the time. If the nerdy, horn-rimmed glasses, straw-hat-wearing comedian and Everyman hero, Lloyd, could have learned to avoid his overbearing sentimentality that pock mark all his films, then I think he would have been received and remembered today with a greater fondness. Also, Lloyd’s films though always charming nevertheless lacked great vision and played solely to the common man’s tight view of the world without trying to raise the bar like a Keaton or Chaplin.
Harold’s depicted as a poor country yokel who comes to the big city of Los Angeles to make good — in hopes of earning enough money to eventually wed his nice hometown sweetheart (Mildred Davis, Lloyd’s real-life wife). He works as a low-paid department store clerk at the ladies’ fabric cloth counter and sends his girl rosy letters with expensive fabric gifts from the store that lead her to believe he’s become a success. Her mother insists that before she loses this great catch, she join him in the big city. Unable to extricate himself from his fibs, Harold tries convincing her that he really is a boss when she unexpectedly visits the workplace.
Realizing that he must make some cabbage pronto, he jumps at the offer of $1,000 by the store’s manager if he devises a publicity gimmick to attract crowds of people to the store. He thereby hires his roommate, the Pal (Bill Strother-a real-life human fly), to perform a stunt as a human fly on the outside of the twelve-story store. Their plan is to split the cash after the friend performs the stunt. But Harold learns that he must climb the first floor first and they can’t switch because a pursuing cop – the Law (Noah Young) – is chasing away the Pal. He’s perplexed when at every level his pal is not there to replace him, and he’s goaded on by the crowd to keep going one floor higher despite all sorts of obstacles from a mouse which climbs up his pants leg to a swinging window to a revolving weather vane.
The very pleasing climactic signature scene offers a good mix of tension and slapstick. It will always be remembered for him hanging from the minute-hand of the large clock, looking out over the big city streets below with fear in his eyes while he’s so perilously holding on for dear life as the clock-face pulls off the wall-clock.
It’s interesting to note that although Harold Lloyd always swore that he had done all his own stunts, after his death it was finally revealed that the famous climb up the 12-story building was done with the aid of a stuntman.
REVIEWED ON 1/13/2004 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/