Safety Last! (1923)
Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor
It is one of the most iconic moments in all of silent film: a man in round glasses and a straw hat hangs precariously from the minute hand of a clock, high above a bustling city street. Numerous other buildings can be seen in the background, along with moving cars and trolleys, and the countless pedestrians on the crowded sidewalks appear as small as ants. It is clear that this scene is not the result of trick photography, or the use of miniatures, but that he is actually hanging several stories above the ground. The man in the scene is the great silent film comedian Harold Lloyd, and the scene occurs in one of the great silent film comedies, Safety Last!
Lloyd's skills are on full display in Safety Last!, a film which showcases his everyman appeal and the thrilling scope of his comedic vision. The film features a wonderful gag in its opening scene, which finds The Boy behind a barred gate alongside a priest and a uniformed official, while Mildred and his mother stand weeping on the outside. Hanging in the background is what appears to be a noose, and The Boy starts off in that direction, accompanied by the two men. Suddenly we realize that the barred gates are the entrance to a train station, and the "noose" is actually a trackside pickup hoop. The Boy is headed not to his death, but to the big city. Equally hilarious is the later sequence in which The Boy poses as the department store manager in order to fool Mildred, going so far as to sneak in and out of the manager's office with Mildred in tow. However, the climactic building climb sequence is certainly the film's highlight, revealing Lloyd's gift for sustained action comedy sequences.
While it has been noted that the filmed climb was achieved with the assistance of a stuntman, it is clearly Harold Lloyd himself on the side of the building in most of the shots. Lloyd, like many of his fellow silent film comedians (Buster Keaton being the most notable example), performed nearly all of his own stunts, and there is a breathtaking thrill for the viewer in realizing that he has placed himself in such grave danger to bring his comic vision to fruition.
The library's copy of the film is part of a seven-DVD box set containing nearly thirty of Lloyd's feature-length and short films, so if Safety Last! tickles your funny bone, there is a bounty of Lloyd's other work available for your enjoyment.