Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2020) on… Safety Last! (1923)

We’re back again, this time with another classic silent comedy featuring Harold Lloyd, the 1923 movie Safety Last!

At the train station in Great Bend, Harold (Harold Lloyd, of course) prepares to leave for the big city. He says goodbye to his mother and his fiancee, Mildred (Mildred Davis), promising to send for her when he’s made his fortune. Fast forward several months, and we find he is living in an apartment with his friend, Limpy Bill (Bill Strother). Instead of saving his money to help pay the bills like he should, Harold keeps spending it on jewelry that he sends to Mildred (along with letters bragging about how well he is doing). In reality, he is just a salesclerk at the De Vore Department Store, where he has to deal with some unruly customers, as well as the stuffy floorwalker Mr. Stubbs (Westcott B. Clarke). One day, after leaving work to meet his friend Bill, Harold runs into an old friend from Great Bend who has become a policeman. After quickly talking with him, Harold meets up with Bill, and, bragging that the police will let him get away with anything, urges Bill to help him play a prank on the policeman. However, the policeman they play a prank on is NOT Harold’s friend, but somebody else entirely! Harold is able to hide quickly before he is spotted, but Bill isn’t that lucky, and has to run away, climbing one of the nearby buildings to get away. The policeman (Noah Young) vows to arrest Bill the next time he sees him. More trouble comes for Harold with a big sale in the department store, with the unruly customers getting him in trouble with Mr. Stubbs. Then Mildred arrives to surprise him, and, boy, is he surprised! He has to find a way to both do his job while also appearing to be in a much higher position in the company. As he is trying to get her to leave, he overhears the store’s manager tell the floorwalker that he would pay a lot of money to somebody who could come up with a gimmick to get more people in the store. Remembering how his buddy climbed up a building, Harold bursts in and suggests an event in which a mystery man would climb the exterior of the department store. The manager likes the idea and decides to run with it. Harold calls Bill to tell him about it, and offers to split the money. However, the policeman they had played a prank on shows up, and it is suggested Harold should climb the first floor while Bill evades the policeman. Except that’s not so easy, as Harold has to keep climbing while the policeman chases Bill!

This movie’s most well-known scene (and possibly Harold Lloyd’s most famous from his entire career) is him climbing up the department store building (particularly when he is hanging onto the broken clock). The whole idea was inspired by Bill Strothers, who did his own “human fly” act of climbing a building and doing other stunts at the top, something that Harold Lloyd saw walking through Los Angeles. He got Bill Strothers under contract at the Hal Roach studio for this film, playing his buddy “Limpy Bill” (and obviously doing his own climbing, as well as doubling for Harold for some shots). I know I enjoy watching this whole scene unfold in the movie every time. Just because of what life is like for me, it’s rare for me to be able to watch an entire movie all in one sitting (outside of when I see it in theatres or watch movies with friends, neither of which is exactly happening now for obvious reasons). Because of that, I can guarantee that, whenever I get to this scene in the movie, I need enough time to stay for the whole climb, because I find it so gripping that I just cannot bring myself to leave until Harold is at the top of the building! The whole scene manages to make you laugh even while keeping you on the edge of your seat!

Of course, the rest of the movie is fun, too! I know I enjoy watching the whole scene where Harold is trying to do his job all while convincing his girlfriend that he’s a big man at the department store. I love the reactions of some of his coworkers, who are rendered speechless as he attempts to “demonstrate” how to do their jobs. Then the follow-up, as he tries to appear to be the general manager when Mildred makes that mistaken assumption. His methods of getting past his co-workers (and the general manager, when he returns to his office) are all hilarious! Easily a lot of fun to see!

Now, I’ll admit, when I was trying to plan when I would post this review, I had no thoughts or plans on connecting it to Halloween (which will be in less than a week). Still, on thinking it over, I can’t help but think the movie is almost appropriate. I mean, we have Harold pretending to be something he isn’t, especially with regards to his girlfriend for the entire movie. He may not be wearing a literal mask, but he’s still wearing one just the same. This idea continues for the climb up the building as well. All the press for the event keeps the identity of the climber a secret, and Harold is forced to step in when the cop looking for his buddy shows up. Harold and his buddy make plans to change outfits on a higher floor to keep up the ruse (except Bill still can’t evade the policeman). And, as for thrills, Harold’s climb up the building certainly does provide them! They may not be the same as dealing with monsters, or being stalked by serial killers (or whatever other types of Halloween movies you can think of), but I think it works well enough! Of course, regardless of what time of year you see this movie, it’s still a great classic, and one I have no trouble whatsoever recommending!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 14 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

Audience Rating:

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Harold Lloyd – The Freshman (1925)

And now, for my feature on theatrical shorts, featuring the three shorts included as extras on this release!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Take A Chance (1918)

(available as an extra on the Safety Last! Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection)

(Length: 10 minutes, 21 seconds)

After spending his last quarter, the Sport (Harold Lloyd) tries to go on a picnic with a Hired Girl (Bebe Daniels) with unforeseen results! As usual, Harold Lloyd gets in a lot of physical comedy, as he tries to deal with another suitor for Bebe Daniel’s character’s affections. Admittedly, the story goes all over the pace, as an escaped convict changes clothes with him and the guards/policemen start chasing him! Many fun gags here, which certainly make this one a lot of fun!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Young Mr. Jazz (1919)

(available as an extra on the Safety Last! Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection)

(Length: 9 minutes, 50 seconds)

Harold (Harold Lloyd) takes the Girl (Bebe Daniels) to The Bowery Cafe. Many fun gags here, as we start out on the beach with the Girl and her father (played by Bud Jamison), with Harold traveling under the sand like a submarine! Once in the cafe, we also see them dealing with all the tough characters in there, particularly with one ridiculous moment where pickpockets steal from both Harold and the Girl! Even more fun as we see Harold and Bebe doing some fancy dancing! It’s Harold Lloyd, so it’s still worth a few good laughs!

Coming Up Shorts! with… His Royal Slyness (1920)

(available as an extra on the Safety Last! Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection)

(Length: 21 minutes, 46 seconds)

Harold Lloyd plays a book salesman, who resembles the Prince of Thermosa, and is paid to go back in place of the Prince, who is supposed to marry a princess (played by Mildred Davis). Slightly longer short, compared to the other two in this set, but a lot of fun, with some “Prince And The Pauper” vibes going for it (and the prince played by Harold Lloyd’s real older brother!). Of course, throw in a peasant’s revolution that also occurs, plus a princess that disguises herself to go among the common people, and it’s a lot of fun here! Maybe not quite Harold’s best short, but I enjoy seeing this one every now and then!

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