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.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080I/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English PCM 1.0 (Mono), English PCM 2.0
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 13 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 06/18/2013
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.
The Production Rating: 5/5
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.
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.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
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.
Audio Rating: 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.
Special Features Rating: 5/5
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.
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.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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