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    Safety Last! Blu-ray Review

    Blu-ray Criterion

    Jun 10 2013 01:32 PM | Matt Hough in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
    Harold Lloyd clinging desperately to the hand of a building clock suspended precariously high over the city streets: it’s one of the most iconic images from the silent screen era, and the movie that contains it is one of the fleetest comedies either Lloyd or any of his contemporaries ever made. Safety Last! is one of Lloyd’s thrill comedies; not all of his films were in that genre, but this one is his greatest and is really something to see.

    Title Info:

    • Studio: Criterion
    • Distributed By: N/A
    • Video Resolution: 1080I/AVC
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
    • Audio: English PCM 1.0 (Mono), English PCM 2.0
    • Subtitles: None
    • Rating: Not Rated
    • Run Time: 1 Hr. 13 Min.
    • Package Includes: Blu-ray
    • Case Type: keep case
    • Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
    • Region: A
    • Release Date: 06/18/2013
    • MSRP: $39.95

    The Production Rating: 5/5

    Harold (Harold Lloyd) wants desperately to marry Mildred (Mildred Davis), but he won’t until he can go to the big city and make good. But making good is taking a frustratingly long time since his menial job as a fabric salesman at the DeVore Department Store makes him only $15.00 a week. When Mildred surprises Harold (whose been sending her letters bragging about his great success in the big city) with a visit, he realizes he’s got to do something big to make the money that will enable him to marry her. Since his best friend Bill (Bill Strother) has the ability to climb up the sides of buildings, Harold suggests to his boss that having a “mystery man” climb up the side of their office building will bring in hordes of customers, and the boss is so impressed that he promises Harold $1,000 if he can carry out the plan. When the time comes for the climb, however, Bill is being chased by a policeman (Noah Young), and so Harold has to undertake the dangerous climb.

    Though the thrilling and hilarious climb up the building takes in the film’s last twenty minutes, the film’s first two-thirds has dozens of gags that may be less panic-inducing but are just as entertaining. Lloyd and his gag writers made sure that jokes, both obvious ones and surprisingly unique ones, are in plentiful supply throughout, and the best ones remain as fresh and funny no matter how many times one watches the movie. The romantic comedy elements of the story with Mildred making a surprise visit and begging to be shown around Harold’s office (really the office of his no-nonsense boss who’s just threatened him with dismissal) are the film’s least interesting sequences, but they’re necessary to set up the impetus to earn a big sum of money quickly. All of the business with Harold trying to avoid the landlady, get to work on time, and deal with recalcitrant customers and the haughty, demanding floorwalker (Westcott B. Clarke) are the core of the comic conundrums the main character must navigate, the kind of meat and potatoes of the entire era of silent comic cinema. But the film’s pièce de résistance is Lloyd’s monumental climb up the building, floor by floor as every possible mis-happenstance occurs. It’s a craftily designed sequence as the sight gags offer both hilarious and exciting results simultaneously, and as he goes higher and higher and the stakes become more and more life-threatening, it only gets funnier and scarier. Though Lloyd was off the ground at a fair height, marvelously inventive photographic angles by the directors (kudos to directors Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor) give the illusion of a dizzying climb with a life hanging in the balance. It never fails to impress no matter how often it’s screened, and the gags with birds and nets and ropes and that clock are so inspired.

    As usual for him at this juncture in his career, Harold Lloyd was playing an everyman: neither eccentric nor grotesque, he merely wants a spouse and a job and thus allows every member of the audience to identify with his efforts to achieve them. Mildred Davis isn’t an especially inventive actress, and after this film, she married Lloyd and did very little additional screen work. But “human fly” Bill Strother has some funny moments of his own as Lloyd’s fall guy. Noah Young, longtime member of Lloyd’s acting company, is always a welcome presence as the antagonist.

    Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA

    The film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 and is offered in 1080i resolution using the AVC codec. It’s incredible that this 1923 film looks this good after so many ensuing decades, but there are a couple of problematic sequences that have numerous little scratches and a lack of clarity. Most of the film looks nicely sharp and with an appealing grayscale and tight contrast that makes for a natural looking image. The film has been divided into 14 chapters.

    Audio Rating: 5/5

    The disc offers two audio tracks both in uncompressed audio. The PCM 2.0 (2.3 Mbps) stereo track offers the inspired Carl Davis orchestral score that matches music to action in utter perfection. The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) audio track presents the late 1960s organ accompaniment by Gaylord Carter. I much preferred the Davis score, but Criterion has been most accommodating to offer the listener a choice.

    Special Features: 5/5

    Audio Commentary: historian Leonard Maltin and Lloyd expert Richard Correll share the commentary track. While anecdotes on Lloyd’s life and career are certainly present, too much of the track involves Correll setting up jokes we’re watching and the two laughing about them. This is not the learned commentary the film really deserves.

    Suzanne Lloyd Introduction (17:21, HD): the granddaughter of Harold Lloyd relates her experiences with her “dad” both personal and professional.

    Three Lloyd Shorts: three wonderful examples of Lloyd’s earlier work are offered with optional commentary by Richard Correll and John Bengston. Take a Chance (10:21, HD) from 1918 with Lloyd, Bebe Daniels, and Snub Pollard, Young Mr. Jazz (9:50, HD) with the same trio from 1919, and His Royal Slyness (21:46, HD) from 1920 with Lloyd and Mildred Davis in one of her first films with her future husband.

    Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius (1:48:00, HD): the two-part Thames television documentary on the life and career of the silent and sound comedian featuring family, friends, and co-stars reminiscing about Lloyd and some home movies and excerpts from interviews he gave in later life.

    Locations and Effects (20:37, HD): Craig Barron and John Bengston discuss Los Angeles locations used for filming Safety Last! and with revelations about how the trick shots were accomplished.

    Carl Davis Interview (24:08, HD): the composer who has scored four features and two shorts in the Lloyd filmography discusses his techniques and motifs for writing the music for the films.

    22-Page Booklet: offers cast and crew lists, numerous black and white stills from the film, and author Ed Park's biographical and critical essay on Lloyd and his masterwork.

    Timeline: can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.

    Overall Rating: 4.5/5

    Highly Recommended! One of the great silent comedies, Safety Last! comes to Blu-ray looking and sounding mostly marvelous. Bountiful bonus features increase the value of this wonderful Criterion release.

    Reviewed by: Matt Hough
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    13 Comments

    Fantastic review! Can't wait for this one! (Well.. I can wait for a 50% off sale.)

    People are undoubtedly going to wonder why it is interlaced rather than progressive. My guess is that it has something to do with the framerate, approx 22FPS? The other issue is that Criterion framed this at 1.37:1 which is definitely incorrect for a silent film.

    People are undoubtedly going to wonder why it is interlaced rather than progressive. My guess is that it has something to do with the framerate, approx 22FPS? The other issue is that Criterion framed this at 1.37:1 which is definitely incorrect for a silent film.

     

    That was my surmise, too. The 22 fps I guess wouldn't work with the 24 fps of 1080p.

     

    (The shorts, however, are 1080p. I guess they aren't running at 22 fps.)

    Photo
    Ken_McAlinden
    Jun 11 2013 07:00 AM

    If you are into the whole OCD thing and your BD player has single frame advance, you can actually verify the frame rate by stepping through one frame at a time and counting the number of unique frames you see as you advance through one second of time.  Verify this across 2-4 seconds and you should have a pretty good idea of what the rate is.

    Photo
    Mike Frezon
    Jul 16 2013 11:07 AM

    I picked up Safety Last! at the current Barnes & Noble sale and just took the time to watch it.

     

    Wow!

     

    It held me the entire time.  The Carl Davis score was indeed perfection.  Talk about a timeless piece of art.  As I remember from when I was entranced by the Warner's release of The Jazz Singer, I was amazed at how perfectly the film represents a slice of American life and times.  The only supplement I watched was Locations & Effects which gave an incredible perspective on how Lloyd pulled off this work high above Los Angeles in 1923. 

     

    I was truly amazed by how good the film looked.  Yes, I noticed a few scenes midway through that had a fair amount of detritus throughout the reel...but for the most part, it was clean as a whistle. 

     

    Two questions to those who know a lot more about this than me:

     

    1.)  The opening titles looked almost too perfect.  At least the text does.  Any images on the slides, though, are flickering.  What was done to those in the restoration?

     

    And, 2.)  Why do only some of the shots in the film include the round border around the outside of the image (as if you are looking through a telescope?)  I could see if the filmmaker was trying to emphasize a subject for the audience...but that didn't really seem to be the case most times the device appears.  Sometimes the border just appears on the very corners of the image. 

     

    From Ken's opening of his review:

     

    Safety Last! is one of Lloyd’s thrill comedies; not all of his films were in that genre, but this one is his greatest and is really something to see.

     

    "Really something to see," indeed!  :thumbs-up-smiley:

     

    Thanks for the review, Ken!

     

    And, 2.)  Why do only some of the shots in the film include the round border around the outside of the image (as if you are looking through a telescope?)  I could see if the filmmaker was trying to emphasize a subject for the audience...but that didn't really seem to be the case most times the device appears.  Sometimes the border just appears on the very corners of the image. 

     

    I guess you haven't watched many silent movies? What you describe is very common. I don't know if it was the camera, or the lens or the aperture, but for some reason, intended or not, the entire frame didn't always get exposed, giving a sort of "cameo" effect.

    I picked up Safety Last! at the current Barnes & Noble sale and just took the time to watch it.

     

    Wow!

     

    It held me the entire time.  The Carl Davis score was indeed perfection.  Talk about a timeless piece of art.  As I remember from when I was entranced by the Warner's release of The Jazz Singer, I was amazed at how perfectly the film represents a slice of American life and times.  The only supplement I watched was Locations & Effects which gave an incredible perspective on how Lloyd pulled off this work high above Los Angeles in 1923. 

     

    I was truly amazed by how good the film looked.  Yes, I noticed a few scenes midway through that had a fair amount of detritus throughout the reel...but for the most part, it was clean as a whistle. 

     

    Two questions to those who know a lot more about this than me:

     

    1.)  The opening titles looked almost too perfect.  At least the text does.  Any images on the slides, though, are flickering.  What was done to those in the restoration?

     

    And, 2.)  Why do only some of the shots in the film include the round border around the outside of the image (as if you are looking through a telescope?)  I could see if the filmmaker was trying to emphasize a subject for the audience...but that didn't really seem to be the case most times the device appears.  Sometimes the border just appears on the very corners of the image. 

     

    From Ken's opening of his review:

     

     

    "Really something to see," indeed!  :thumbs-up-smiley:

     

    Thanks for the review, Ken!

     

    I'm not Ken, but I'll take the compliments regardless. Thanks! :D

      • Steve...O likes this
    Photo
    Dave B Ferris
    Jul 16 2013 01:46 PM
    Yes, you're part of a club of revered reveiewers at HTF, including Ken (McAlinden), and (now I'm really dating myself) Herb Kane.

    Herb - great review   :D

     

    I also picked up SL at the B&N sale and have watched the 3 shorts so far as they are great!  It's amazing that shorts 90+ years old can look so great.  I'll start on the feature next.

     

    The CriterionCast website says that the next Lloyd release will be "The Freshman".  I missed out getting the DVD Lloyd collection when it came out and so it is welcome news that these films will get the deluxe treatment and consumers will get a second shot at buying them.  I just hope that sales warrant enough releases so that we get a substantial portion of the catalog that is still extant.

     

    In all serious Matt, I agree with Dave's comment above.  Your reviews are always "go to" material for me and while I can't comment on every one, I do read as many as I can.   Speaking of Herb Kane, he was a great HTF colleague, does anyone know how he is doing these days?  If he has posted in recent years, I've missed it.  I remember that his wife was having some health issues and I sincerely hope all is well there. 

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    Mike Frezon
    Jul 16 2013 10:40 PM

    I am really looking forward to the day when I can show the film to my mother.  She's 83 and I think she would find the film to be even more engaging than I did. 

     

    I guess you haven't watched many silent movies? What you describe is very common. I don't know if it was the camera, or the lens or the aperture, but for some reason, intended or not, the entire frame didn't always get exposed, giving a sort of "cameo" effect.

     

    I've watched my fair share of silent films (probably less than most here) so I am aware that the effect is common, what I am not aware of is what caused it.  Hence, my question.  That effect is probably one of the easiest ways to make contemporary film look dated to be from the silent era (along with an absence of color and slightly irregular speed!). 

     

    The films were so meticulously shot, it seems odd to me that the filmmakers would not have re-shot certain sequences if there was a problem  with improperly exposed film. 

     

    I'm not Ken, but I'll take the compliments regardless. Thanks! :D

     

    Ouch.  Sorry, Matt.  When I did the search to find the review thread, I saw Ken's name (since his was the last post that had been made before I revived it) and just carried it in my little brain that he was responsible for the review. 

     

    Anyway, I'm glad that I could bring a little fun to the thread (even at my own expense)..and even spur some well-deserved kudos to you.  :biggrin:

    Photo
    Moe Dickstein
    Jul 16 2013 11:31 PM
    Mike, what I believe you're referring to is called "vignetting".

    Basically the light passed through the lens is not hitting the entirety of the film and you get the effect. This still happens today when you use certain lenses in still cameras.

    I don't believe that at the time they would have considered it a defect, since as you and others note, it was a common issue at the time, therefore there would be no cause for reshoots, since what could they do? The best lenses they had in certain focal lengths or combinations simply didn't cover the entire negative. So basically it's just a "glitch" that you could look at as an unavoidable and not unwanted effect of the equipment of the time.
    Photo
    Mike Frezon
    Jul 17 2013 07:55 PM

    That is an awesome answer, Moe.  Thanks!

     

    Makes sense. 

      • Moe Dickstein likes this
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    Mike Frezon
    Jul 25 2013 11:17 AM

    1.)  The opening titles looked almost too perfect.  At least the text does.  Any images on the slides, though, are flickering.  What was done to those in the restoration?

     

    Does anyone have any thoughts on this earlier question of mine?  I am still curious about it.