My belated movie review — “Safety Last!” with Harold Lloyd

The last great clock-hanger.

I happen to enjoy a silent movie here and there. You know, those old black and white movies they made before they could figure out how to put sound to the picture with a soundtrack? They had stars, too. Like Charlie Chaplin, Rudy Valentino, and Gloria Swanson. I know, they are stars you might not have heard of until now. For nearly all of us (somebody reading this is 90 years old or more), they are before our time.

I have a little bit of a connection to silent films, too. My great grandfather was the sound engineer on the first sound film ever made. He ran a battery shop, building and fixing batteries, but also knew how to handle sound recording equipment. His daughter, and my grandmother, eventually transcribed for the screenwriters to write the scripts for the movies, too.

For a while there, I had been showing Harold Lloyd clips and movies to my kids, little short films, I thought, right? They’re easy to find on YouTube. They’re all beyond copyright protection now, so pretty much anyone can view them and own a copy of them. The original works are now in the public domain.

My favorite silent movie from Harold Lloyd is “Safety Last!”, and for years, I only saw the part where our hero, Harold, climbs a building to meet the woman he hopes to marry. 7 minutes tops, right?

So when I decided to write this article, I went searching for it this morning and found the full-length film, on YouTube, all one hour and thirteen minutes of it. I had figured I’d be writing about that short segment. Boy, was I wrong. But hey, it all worked out. I finished watching the whole thing before anyone got up this morning.

Safety Last features Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Bill Strother, and Noah Young. You can find the Wikipedia page about this movie here, but be forewarned, the plot description is a spoiler if you have never seen it before. Have you ever seen this image before?

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Source: Wikipedia

Now you know where that came from. Safety Last! is considered one of the great comedies in film, and rightly so, as it was produced by the great Hal Roach of Little Rascals fame. I enjoyed Safety Last! for the context switching, where one frame of reference is presented, and then flipped to show another. I also enjoyed the uncomfortable circumstances and social situations presented to challenge the protagonist, Harold.

But the most impressive part of the movie to me is the stunts. The men who performed the stunts, most of which were performed by Lloyd himself, were amazing. They didn’t have all the post-production gizmos like we have today, so the genius of the directors, Fred Newmeyer, and Sam Taylor really stands out. How did they do all that? They make these scenes look incredible for their time. The stunts demonstrated remarkable skill and strength, as well. And they were all done in a way that doesn’t distract from the plot.

I also know that the stunts were performed with safety first in mind. Yet, as I watched the film, especially the scenes of a man climbing the side of the building, I was noticeably uncomfortable. I kept imagining how I might feel on the side of the building, and I fidgeted and squirmed as I watched. The music that accompanies the film on YouTube adds to the suspense, as well.

Another aspect that I liked about the film is that even in the segment that I had seen a few times with my kids, I still laughed in the same spots as before. It’s kind of like “I Love Lucy”, where they figured out a certain mechanics about comedy, and it just works, every single time. I’ve seen this myself when I used to do stand up comedy, too. I’ve seen the same people come to my show over and over, and they laugh at the same jokes, every time. Lloyd captures that repeatably funny magic in this film.

Safety Last! also gives us a great idea of what life was like in 1923 America. There were no cell phones, no computers, and everything was very mechanical. This movie shows and uses the state of the art as of 1923 and presents a very different narrative than what we’re used to seeing or thinking. Everything was recorded on paper and film, and there was nothing digital about it.

For the rest of the film, which was new to me, I laughed out loud and thoroughly enjoyed myself. From the pranks to the pratfalls, I was moved by the comedy and the fearless stunts. I saw how people once lived in 20th Century America.

If you have not seen Safety Last! yet, it is well worth the time to see a man dangling from the hands of a clock.

Write on.

Originally published on, July 19th, 2018. Updated for clarity, punctuation, and grammar.

Written by

Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.

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