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HAROLD LLOYD'S SAFETY LAST! 1923.


NINETEEN-TWENTY-THREE.

THE ULTIMATE GAGE COMEDY.

The nineteen-twenty-three silent picture, SAFETY LAST! has become a classic in not only silent picture history, but motion picture history altogether. "AS A PIECE OF COMIC ARCHITECTURE, IT'S IMPECCABLE," said that of Orson Welles. It's HAROLD LLOYD'S best-known masterpiece. He's known as "The Third Genius", after Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, though he is seldom mentioned in the same breath as the other two. It is a simple guess that this is because he was not what you would call a comedian, not like Chaplin or Keaton for that matter. Hal Roach, the producer on the film said best, "Harold Lloyd worked for me because he could play a comedian. He was not a comedian. He was the best actor I ever saw being a comedian, no one worked harder than he did." Though this is without a doubt true, he is not well known as one of the great comedians, SAFETY LAST! his fourth film, stands the test of time, as one of the great comedies ever produced. 


SAFETY LAST! WAS HIS FORTH FILM AND THE MOST COMPLEX, WITH ANGELS AND ILLUSIONS AND THRILLING STUNTS. HE CAME UP WITH THE IDEA AFTER SEEING A SO-CALLED "HUMAN FLY" CLIMB THE SIDE OF A TALL BUILDING, WHICH WAS A TYPICAL SPECTACLE IN THE STUNT-CRAZED AMERICA OF THE TWENTIES.

I.

The film is simple but clever. It begins with the theme of work and death, as The Boy is in what appears to be behind bars, awaiting his execution. The first visual gag enters into the scene, by showing The Boy walking towards a noose, fated for death until it is revealed to be a train station pickup hoop, of the small-town train station. He is being shipped off to the big city for work. He then bids farewell to his sweetheart, played by MILDRED DAVIS, Lloyd's actual wife, and is then steamed away into the heart of California's metropolitan, where he then goes to work on the first floor of a towering department store. The fictional Bolton Building, a central figure in this film, almost a main character itself. 

The Boy promises to send for her when he starts to make a good living, a promise he means to keep. Though this financial dream is far from his reality, as the letters he writes to her aren't able to keep pace with his fantasizes of riches. The first half of the film shows this in some of the most memorable sequences in workplace hell, one of which shows him being whisked away during his ten-minute break and trying to get back in time. All of this is more like a prelude into the rest of the film.

The Boy then finds himself in the center of a promotional scheme of sorts. The idea? To climb the department store building in hopes to bring new costumers in. The Boy is not dumb, he realizes the harm this could cause him, so he plans to have his more natural daredevil friend do his bidding, but of course, plans unravel. The extended thrill sequence builds to one of, if not the most, iconic scene in silent picture history, as Lloyd dangles from the hands of the store's clock.  


Though considered "the third genius", Lloyd's films outgrossed those of Chaplin and Keaton in the nineteen-twenties, mostly because he made more films than Chaplin and his everyman type appealed to a larger audience than that of Keaton's stone face. He is an actor, not a comedic genius; not creating comedy out of life, endless inspiration and instinct like the other two. "HE HAD TO THINK IT ALL OUT," Walter Kerr said in his nineteen-seventy-five book, The Silent Clowns. "LLOYD WAS AN ORDINARY MAN, LIKE THE REST OF US: UNGROTESQUE, UNINSPIRED. IF HE WANTED TO BE A SUCCESSFUL FILM COMEDIAN, HE WOULD HAVE TO LEARN HOW TO BE ONE, AND LEARN THE HARD WAY." 

Chaplin and Keaton seemed to float along with clouds of endless invention and constant inspiration. "LLOYD KNEW THAT HE DIDN'T KNOW WHAT HE WAS DOING," Kerr wrote, "and detested himself for it." Unlike the other two, with a background in this type of work, Lloyd had to acquire his skills. "HE GOT NO GIFT FROM THE GODS." But perhaps, this was meant to always be. His films, like his own growth into his craft, are about triumph, the simple man becoming unstoppable. 

His "Glass" character is not known or adored as much as Chaplin's THE TRAMP. He was a simple man, one who's look was based round wire-framed glasses. After playing an early version of a Chaplin-like character, Lonesome Luke, Lloyd saw a silent film where the character replaced his glasses after an action scene, this was a starting point. He adopted the glasses as his own. It's still a standout characteristic, though not as distinct as Chaplin's moustache or Keaton's gaze. He is pleasant to look at, even handsome. I always found him child-like, with a certain innocence. If not for the background of the department store, his character would have blended in with the crowd. But, this is the formula of why this works so well with this type of character, the action that is imposed on his makes his character shine through the crowd, and what action it was. 

HOW IT WAS FILMED:

THE CLOCK SCENE has been a staple in silent film, a scene that I had seen countless times before ever knowing what a silent film was, a picture of illusion and a time one cannot reproduce. Those who had never heard of Lloyd have even it, one way or another. He will forever be associated with this scene.


It was released in nineteen-seventy-one that the famous climb was done with the aid of a stuntman, an aid, something to keep in mind. When looking at certain parts of the building climb, you can easily see Lloyd. It would seem that in certain shots it is a stunt double and in other, still dangerous scenes, it's Lloyd. Of course, doing your own stunts is not unique for this period in time, Keaton did virtually all of his own stunts, in fact, he was very keen on making sure of that. 

During the famous scene, it would appear that Lloyd is hanging quite high from the ground. A fact of the matter is, he wasn't as far from the ground as he appears. The building on which he hangs from is a fake wall, constructed on top of an actual skyscraper, 908 S. Broadway. It's skillfully photographed to maintain the illusion that he could fall to his death at any moment. The scale being exaggerated and angeled with each floor he climbs. FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THIS, [X].

1923 BOSTON POST.

II. 

The release of SAFETY LAST! & the rest of his films had been a struggle for studios, television, and fans. He owned all of his films, so anyone that wanted to release it or show it on television had to go through him and not studios who rented out films all the time. He kept the films out of release for decades after the silent era ended, and was seemingly unconcerned that his legacy was trailing behind Chaplin and Keaton's, as they're films were shown more often to a handful of generations. He also didn't allow cinematic re-releases as most theaters could not accommodate an organist and he wouldn't accept a pianist. "I JUST DON'T LIKE PICTURES PLAYED WITH PIANOS. WE NEVER INTENDED THEM TO BE PLAYED WITH PIANOS." His price to rent his films out for two showings ranged from $300,000 and more, causing all who wanted them to retract their offer. After his death, his granddaughter took over and re-released the films that were never lost.

HAROLD LLOYD - THE BOY / HAROLD LLOYD.
MILDRED DAVIS - THE GIRL.
BILL STROTHER - THE PAL.
NOAH YOUNG - THE LAW.
WESTCOTT CLARKE - THE FLOORWALKER.
DIRECTOR - FRED C. NEWMEYER & SAM TAYLOR.
WRITERS - HAL ROACH, SAM TAYLOR, TIM WHELAN, JEAN C. HAVEZ, & LLOYD.
CINEMATOGRAPHER - WALTER LUNDIN.
EDITOR - THOMAS J. CRIZER.
STUDIO - HAL ROACH STUDIO.

Crisply photographed, cleverly scripted, and wonderfully scored, SAFETY LAST! has some truly memorable moments. And once starts to climb the building, one cannot help but feel that they are apart of the climb themselves, sharing the physical joy as he reaches the top. And though Harold Lloyd may not be parallel with the charm of Chaplin or Keaton's deadpan face, he still manages a brilliant acting performance, creating an influential piece in a masterpiece of a film, one that has stood the test of time, as the mortal man tossed into the unthinkable. 

R.