Online Movie Swap: Plain, Simple Tom reviews . . . “Safety Last!” (1923)

Organised by V Donovan from Coolbeans4 and Matt from The Album, this Online Movie Swap was set up for film fans to blindly watch films that they haven’t seen before, films that they wouldn’t necessarily have sought out themselves, films suggested by other film fans. It’s kind of like Movierob’s “Movies From the Hat” I guess, a seemingly random choice, a push into the unknown.

This particular film was one of three suggestions from Tim Coleman of Moving Pictures film club/@fatscoleman. Another was “Magnolia”, which I’ll see later on, and “The Thing”, which I’ve seen but may rewatch some time.

Whilst not instantly recognising the film title when it was suggested, I did instantly recognise the iconic image of Harold Lloyd hanging from the clock. Beyond that, I knew nothing else about the film. It’s about a young man (Harold Lloyd) who moves to the big city so that he can earn money and marry his sweetheart (Mildred Davis). Soon though, he and his pal Bill (Bill Strother) struggle to make ends meet but in his letters back home, he pretends that he is doing exceptionally well and that he and his girl will soon have enough to get married. Eventually, he convinces his department store boss to let him scale the outside of the 12 story building as part of a publicity stunt, for a reward of $1,000: the plan is for he and Bill to switch places one floor up but after Bill is perused by a policeman, the man finds himself having to climb the building himself.

Safety Last! is indeed a humorous film; Lloyd’s mad dash to work, having to get there in 10 minutes, is clever (though I was hoping to see much more of that particular part), the farcical section where he has to pretend to be the department store’s general manager to his girlfriend is efficiently done and there are also plenty of funny scenes in the department store, with all the difficult customers, mad sale attendees and stern managers. The film is accompanied by a jaunty musical score and overall, the story is simple yet fun.

The pivotal climbing scene, the main selling point of the movie, is expertly accomplished and despite the scene being filmed a couple of feet off the ground, the photography is clever enough to convince that Lloyd is really climbing a 12 storey building; even more impressive is the knowledge that Lloyd was able to hang on to the sides despite missing a couple of fingers! The associated comedy bits often hit the mark, the scene maintains momentum and, by the very end, can even get quite nerve-racking.

But even though Lloyd’s stuntwork is admirable and can deliver some laughs when needed, I regrettably feel that his work pales in comparison to the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton; Lloyd doesn’t appear to have the likability and precise comic timing of Chaplin or the unique look and remarkable physical prowess of Keaton. Despite his trademark appearance with the glasses and whatnot, I don’t think that Harold Lloyd is likeable enough, he lacks a certain panache and sadly plays third fiddle to the likes of Chaplin and Keaton.


A fun, simple story with enough comedic moments and an expertly executed finale.

★ ★ ★ ★

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