Safety Last! (1923)

“I’d give a thousand dollars — to anyone — for a new idea — one that would attract an enormous crowd to our store.”

Synopsis:
A poor country boy (Harold Lloyd) moves to the city and becomes a lowly clerk at a department store, but tells his girlfriend back home (Mildred Davis) that he’s much more successful. When she pays him a surprise visit, he must scramble to save face.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary accurately notes that this “Harold Lloyd silent classic” possesses a “splendid mix of genteel character comedy, sight gags, slapstick comic routines, and what [Lloyd] called ‘thrill’ comedy”. Peary points out that while this film is “most remembered for [the] thrilling moment [when] Lloyd hangs from the arms of a large clock” — indeed, this is often cited as the single most famous shot in all of silent cinema — the entire “elaborate”, “cleverly… filmed” final sequence is “impressive”, given that “there is a new adventure on every floor”. Meanwhile, as Peary notes, this breathtaking sequence “shouldn’t make us overlook [the] simpler comedy that takes place earlier”; he enjoins viewers to “watch how [Lloyd] hides from his rent-seeking landlady by hanging with his coat on a hook” (a truly hilarious scene), or “grapples with rampaging women who see there’s a sale at his counter” (note the creative way in which he’s able to temporarily clear his view in the room). Peary is right to call this an “excellent introduction to Lloyd”; it’s a consistently clever delight.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Numerous hilarious sight gags


  • The justifiably renowned final building-climbing sequence

Must See?
Yes, as a genuine comedic classic.

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One Response to “Safety Last! (1923)”

  1. A once-must, as (arguably) Lloyd’s best work.

    In agreement that this is a consistently clever film throughout. Since the emphasis is on well-thought-out visual gags and dialogue is minimal, the film hasn’t really dated. The storyline is a simple one that could easily be quite relevant today.

    Here – perhaps more than in any other of his films (that I recall at the moment) – Lloyd rivals Buster Keaton with the kind of intelligent buffoonery that is Keaton’s stock in trade.

    The masterful, extended climactic sequence is the result of meticulous attention to the full realization of comic potential.

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