One of the most gratifying moments I’ve had as a movie-watcher has been the experience of going into a movie made 80 years ago and then finding myself so full of enjoyment that I feel as though I’ve witnessed something as fresh and as full of life as anything else that may have been released this week. Safety Last! is one of the best comedies, and I’m not qualifying this statement by placing it in the context of the silent era. It is a comedy with the type of raw energy and inventiveness that anyone can, and will, enjoy.
- Director: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor
- Writer: Sam Taylor, Hal Roach, Tim Whelan
- Cast: Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Bill Strother, Noah Young, Westcott Clarke
A young man (Harold Lloyd) is in love and looking to make something of himself. Leaving his girlfriend behind, Harold heads to the city looking for work, with the intention of soon sending for his girlfriend. But as is often the case with plans, things don’t go as expected and a poverty stricken existence seems impossible to overcome. Nevertheless, his determination may be all that he needs to devise a plan allowing for a climb to the top.
The enjoyment of Safety Last! is such that analyzing it at length seems unnecessary. It is often said that Buster Keaton films hold a certain intellectual depth and that Chaplin films hold a certain emotional depth. With Safety Last!, I begin to see why Harold Lloyd films are also often said to hold a certain pureness to them. With a almost non-stop series of high jinks, Lloyd appears to be interested in providing an experience of non-stop thrills and ingenious situational comedy. This is a kinetic type of humor, one that will continue to be enjoyed forever by people of any age and culture. Writers Sam Taylor, Hal Roach, and Tim Whelan created a wonderfully simple story that perfectly establishes a world suited for its own brand of hilarity to ensue. Also, for fans of Los Angeles history, some of the street footage provides a nice glimpse into a city growing wildly during the roaring twenties.
Saftey Last! is such an appropriate title for a film inviting much debate about how much actual risk Lloyd took by performing some of this stunts. Even 90 years after its original release, Lloyd’s stunts and the perfectly-paced direction of Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor still provide thrills that are absolutely engaging. Not only are the stunts and gags still effective, the protagonist is just as relatable to us as any other comedian in more modern comedies. In this way, Lloyd was a genius, creating a universal yet unique character that exemplified some of the most basic characteristics in all of us. There is nothing super-heroic here, just a normal young man hoping to succeed and mostly facing challenges directly in front of him. Never have everyday challenges in the city been so much fun!
Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:
Safety Last! is one of those films that feels more like an experience than an actual movie. Ebert begins his review by pointing out the irony in that this relatively less-viewed silent comedy is also one often credited for having the era’s most famous shot; Harold Lloyd hanging from the hands of a clock high above 1920′s Los Angeles. One of the most remarkable things about this shot, as Ebert cites historian Walter Kerr, is that “virtually every shot during Lloyd’s climb keeps the street below in view”. Throughout Ebert’s review, the film’s appeal is enhanced as he introduces us to an ongoing discussion about how much actual physical danger Lloyd had put himself in while making this film. Sometimes when Ebert discussed the “making of a movie” or when other considerations behind the scenes were discussed at lenght, I’ve questioned the pure merits of the movie. With Safety Last!, no analysis will ever undo the experience of watching it for the first time. For this reason, it deserves its place among the greatest comedies I’ve seen in my entire life.
Good, Bad or Great Movie: GREAT
Do you like Safety Last! ? Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?
Next week’s review: Ivan the Terrible Parts I and II
Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, a monolith of celluloid currently comprised of approximately 363 films (more if you count the trilogies, the Up docs and Decalogue). Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response. By taking on Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor’s Safety Last! this week, he now has 357 under his belt and 6 films left to go.