Safety Last (1923) – Fred C. Newmeyer & Sam Taylor

This silent film classic ends up being more of a comedy than an action film but the physicality of the gags and stunts make it a worthy addition to the 101 Action Movies list.

Everyone, whether they have seen the film or not, is familiar with the image of Harold Lloyd hanging form a clock face on the side of a building, but I had never made time to see the full film until now.

It’s genuinely funny and entertaining, and the sheer amount of physical gags that take place within the 70-odd minute runtime run the gambit from comedic gymnastics to full-on life-risking stunts, especially when you take into account that there would be no safety lines or wires at work. Yes there are camera tricks, Lloyd isn’t really climbing the full height of a building, it’s a set on a location, shot to look higher than it is, but some of them are still gob-smackingly good.

The story is simple enough The Boy (Harold Lloyd) is off to the big city to make a name for himself, and save enough money so that he can send for The Girl (Mildred Davis) and marry her. He and his Pal (Bill Strother) share an apartment, hiding from their landlady ingeniously from coathooks, and barely scrape by, despite his letters to the contrary to the Girl.

safety1He tells her, he`s making big deals, and sending her lavish gifts (instead of eating) when in fact he`s working at the fabric counter of a department store and trying to avoid the disdain and ire of the Floorwalker (Westcott Clarke). He sneaks into work late (he was plenty early but had a mishap with a delivery truck), loses his suit coat in a sale filled with stampeding shoppers, helps a little old lady get her package by having everyone else look for money on the floor.

As luck would have it, The Girl shows up early, because she wants to see how well he`s doing, so he has to juggle his job with maintaining the facade of being the big boss.

safety2When an opportunity arises to make $1000 by creating a publicity stunt to drive traffic to the store, The Boy realizes this could be the big moment. He agrees to split the winning with his Pal (who tries to help him out, but a cop keeps causing problems for them) if they climb the side of the department store, a 12-storey building. With the cop chasing his Pal throughout the building the Boy is forced to do all the climbing himself in a hilarious and thrilling ascent.

Now Lloyd did do a large part of his own stunts, but he did use a double for some of it, but most of it is all him, and you can see it`s him doing these stunts, chasing a train, hanging from a streetcar, and of course, hanging from a clock face.

There`s a moment in the film, when his Pal has thrown a rope out of a window to help him climb up, and the viewer sees that it isn`t tied off, now while they weren`t as high above the ground as the shot suggested, he was still pretty high up. He jumps, grabs the rope, is in freefall for a moment, before grabbing hold of a ledge. Holy crap!

I didn`t believe how much I enjoyed watching this one. Of course with Hal Roach associated with it, I should have known better… I did love my Little Rascals.

Have you seen it?



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