Watching Old Movies: Safety Last (1923)



What happened this year?

Hey, remember that hyperinflation of German currency I mentioned last time? Well, it kinda hit its peak this year. Specifically, it got to the point where 1 German mark grew to the equivalent of 4.2 trillion dollars! (I feel there’s a box office joke I should be probably making right now, but I keep forgetting which way round the exchange rate goes here.)

In other news, President Warren G. Harding dies of a heart attack and is replaced with Calvin Coolidge, Hitler got arrested after attempting a coup in Bavaria during the Beer Hall Pusch and Warner Bros Studios was officially founded!

As for famous births, there weren’t that many I could actually find this year. Charlton Heston, Richard Attenborough, Bob Barker and that most hateful of monsters, Marcel Marceau Henry Kissinger.


But anyway, enough doom and gloom. Instead, let’s go back and look at another classic silent comedy, this one with the most recognisably iconic scenes of all time, even you don’t know that this was where said scene originated. Yes, I’m talking Harold Lloyd in…


Safety Last


Plot:  Harold Lloyd plays a country boy trying to make it good in the big city to make his hometown (and girlfriend in said hometown) proud. However, while he claims in his letter that everything is going great, he ends up getting stuck in a dead-end job as a salesman in a department store, with a friend named ‘Limpy’ Bill (which I don’t think is a dick joke?). Fortunately, he sees a chance to turn things around when the General Manager offers a $1000 reward (which was probably a lot in 1920’s money) to any employee who can come up with a good way to draw publicity to the store. Harold comes up with the idea of getting his friend, Limpy Bill, to climb the several-stories high department building. However when Limpy Bill is stuck trying to avoid arrest, Harold is forced to do it instead. Also he dangles from a clock. Not that plot relevant, but it’s like the one scene everyone remembers from this.

Trivia: During the famous clock tower stunt, Harold Lloyd is not as far from the ground as he appears. The building on which he climbs was actually a fake wall constructed on the roof of an actual skyscraper and skillfully photographed to maintain the illusion. Harold Lloyd first tested the safety precautions for said stunt by dropping a dummy onto the mattress below. The dummy bounced off the roof and plummeted to the street below.

Helped Inspire: Almost every scene with a guy dangling from a clock ever.



My Thoughts:


Okay, maybe I should supply a little context for that freakout, because this is definitely labelled a comedy movie for clear reasons, or at least is definitely a comedy movie for the first half. Said first half is mainly dedicated to more basic comedy bits involving Harold’s everyday life and a number of humorous misunderstandings and the likes that he gets into, from being late back to his shift, to trying to trick his girl by pretending to have been promoted to general manager and so on and so forth. It’s funny enough, with some great moments, even if I feels it lacks a bit of the energy and style of someone like Chaplin and Keaton.

However, in the second half, once Harold Lloyd actually starts climbing the building, it goes from lighthearted slapstick comedy to a surprisingly intense thriller disguised as slapstick comedy. Seriously I was on the edge of my fucking seat for a lot of said climb and not just for the infamous clock scene. The movie is genuinely surprisingly good at creating and maintaining tension and the physical comedy stylings only add to that. One scene where Lloyd comes very close to boinking his head on a weather vane, while structured and appeared to look like a slapstick comedy bit, honestly translated amazingly well as a thriller instead. It’s genuinely quite impressive.

I will say though, I’m not quite prepared to put this over Nosferatu, if only because the comedy sections lacked the same polish as the likes of Keaton, and the building climb isn’t until a long way in, but this is still a genuinely excellent, even if not necessarily for the reasons (or genre) I was expecting it to be. B+



1. Nosferatu – B+

2. Safety Last – B+

3. The Goat (1921) – B+

4. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) – B-/C+


Alright so, while a quality movie on its own, that wasn’t quite the comedy I was looking for. And while I could try something new, I feel like going back to one of the masters to see how it’s done. And, as luck would have it, Buster Keaton just happens to have made one of his most famous movies…


(And yes, I’m aware this one’s only 44 minutes long. Don’t care, I want to watch it.)



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