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SAFETY LAST
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Bill Strother, Noah Young, Westcott Clarke
Directors: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor
Audio: PCM Stereo, PCM Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.37:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: See Review
Length: 84 Minutes
Release Date: June 18, 2013

My humor was never cruel or cynical. I just took life and poked fun at it. We made it so it could be understood the world over, without language barriers. We seem to have conquered the time barrier, too.” Harold Lloyd

Film ****

The silent era produced a great number of comic geniuses. There’s Charlie Chaplin, of course, and Buster Keaton, along with Mack Sennett, Fatty Arbuckle, Harry Langdon and others.

One of the chief architects of laughter during those days was Harold Lloyd. Often considered one of the “big three” with Chaplin and Keaton, Lloyd made a name for himself with his own particular brand of genius and derring-do. He didn’t go for the comic pathos of Tramp or the bewildered stone face of Keaton…instead, his persona was one of charm and intelligence, always thinking on his feet, and always acting, rather than reacting, to his dilemmas.

Lloyd might have been the best overall actor of the three, and while the others made many memorable masterpieces, you would be remiss not to include Lloyd’s impressive filmographies amongst the classics from the era you absolutely must see. Safety Last is an excellent place to start.

This is Lloyd’s most famous film, and although he has other movies that I think surpass it, this is probably the one I would show a promising new fan first. It’s an excellent embodiment of all things Harold Lloyd: the plucky, fast thinking character, the brilliantly timed set pieces and gags, and most of all, the uncanny combination of comedy and suspense.

Lloyd plays “the boy”, who is first seen looking sadly out between bars at his family and his love, “the girl” (real-life spouse Davis) while a noose hangs in the background. It’s not what we think. He’s at a train station (the noose is the hook for mail pickups). He’s off to the city to hopefully make his fortune so that he and his betrothed can wed.

It’s not so easy. He ends up as a sales clerk in a department store, but manages to use his meager earnings to try and convince his girl that he’s actually more successful than he is. He can barely pay the rent…one priceless gag is the way he and his pal (Strother) hang from hooks like overcoats to avoid the landlord.

After an accidental run-in with the law, Harold finds his pal has a unique talent: he can scale the outside of buildings deftly and nimbly. So when the store manager offers $1,000 to anyone with an idea to bring publicity to the store, Harold has the idea: have his pal scale the 12 story building where the store is located…it will bring him enough money to send for his sweetheart at last!

However, with the law still in pursuit of his pal, Harold has no choice but to take over. The result is one of the most hilarious and downright suspenseful film sequences in history, resulting in one of the era’s most iconic images: Harold dangling from the face of a clock high above the city streets.

This is more than a great silent film, it’s a great film all around. It’s entertaining, energetic, and yes, even a little scary (particularly for an acrophobic like me). It showcases Harold Lloyd as an appealing and likeable character, thinking on his feet (when his love shows up unannounced to visit him at the store, it takes some quick work to maintain his illusion of success!), and amazing stuntwork. Lloyd actually lost the thumb and forefinger of his right hand in an accident with a prop bomb years earlier…dangling from high buildings is feet enough, but doing it with only three fingers on one hand? The stuff of legends.

All of these qualities made Harold Lloyd one of the true geniuses of the silent era, and why his pictures still stand out in the new millennium. Safety Last is a great opening course…and if you like this one, as I know you will, there are many more jewels to be discovered in his filmography.

BONUS TRIVIA: Though never credited as a writer in his entire career, Harold Lloyd was in fact the driving force behind the stories of ALL of his motion pictures.

Video ****

As a long-time silent film buff, nothing excites me more than knowing a classic from cinema’s early ages is coming to Blu-ray from Criterion. They never disappoint.

Harold Lloyd took better care of his films than many artists of the era, and thankfully, Safety Last looks quite beautiful on Blu-ray. The print is very clean, the black and white photography offers nice crispness and contrast, and everything is clear and detailed. You’d never know the movie was 90 years old!

Audio ***

There are two scores for your enjoyment: a stereo orchestral one from Carl Davis, and a mono organ score from Gaylord Carter. Both are enjoyable listens, and both are presented in uncompressed format here.

Features ****

This disc boasts a nice package of extras, starting with an enjoyable commentary from critic Leonard Maltin and Lloyd archivist Richard Correll…lots of interesting facts! There is also an introduction from Suzanne Lloyd, granddaughter of Harold and president of Harold Lloyd Entertainment.

There are two terrific documentaries: one on Lloyd as “the third genius” of silent comedy, and one on the locations and special effects on the film. There are three remastered Lloyd shorts, “Take a Chance”, “Young Mr. Jazz” and “His Royal Slyness”, with optional commentary tracks.

Rounding out is an interview with Mildred Davis, and a terrific booklet!

Summary:

Safety Last is a true classic, and a stellar representation of the talents of Mr. Harold Lloyd. Considering the outstanding quality of this Blu-ray release, I certainly pray that this won’t be the last of his pictures we see offered up from Criterion!

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