Safety Last! (1923)

Safety Last! (1923) movie poster

directors Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor
viewed: 07/19/2014

Safety Last! is Harold Llloyd’s most famous film, which features one of cinema’s most iconic images, Lloyd dangling from the clock face of the International Savings & Exchange Bank Building (in the film, the 12-story Bolton Building).

Safety Last clock

 

If you hadn’t seen the image, well, now you have.

My guess is that the average person even seeing the image may not even know that it’s Harold Lloyd hanging there.  But this iconic image has been oft referenced in film and other media.

My relationship with the film is as idiosyncratic as any of my lifelong relationship with cinema.  For whatever reason, the local Gainesville, FL PBS channel would run Safety Last! from time to time.  And my parents both really liked the movie so I wound up seeing it of all of silent film more often and regularly than any other.

Frankly, as a kid, I found the whole beginning of the film prior to his climb a bit more boring.  It’s not.  In fact there are some really funny bits in particular in the store that Lloyd works, particularly during a feeding frenzy sale that goes on.  But the film is known for his acrobatic climb up the building and the gags therein.  And as it was presented on TV way back when, really touted the fact that he not only did his own stunts but did so without a net (not sure if that is true now).

I shared the film with the kids.  It was actually one that I’d wanted to see with them for a long time.  For a long time, though, Netflix didn’t have it, of all of Lloyd’s , films, available on DVD.  Now that we’re in the streaming age, Hulu Plus offered it up.  The kids were duly impressed, and even liking the gag in which he tricks the whole crowd in the store to look for a missing $50 bill so that he can hand an old woman her purchase, perhaps, than the most classic of classic scenes.

We’d only watched two other Lloyd films in our screenings over the years, The Freshman (1925) and The Kid Brother (1927) and the kids don’t remember those two all that well.  I’m guessing that they’ll know who Harold Lloyd is now.

The Freshman

 

The Freshman (1925) movie poster

(1925) director Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor
viewed: 08/13/2011

After watching Harold Lloyd’s The Kid Brother (1927), we went on to watch his 1925 film, The Freshman.  It’s another of Lloyd’s most well-known films, his biggest success in the day and one that has endured as well.  While I’m pretty sure that I’d never seen it, parts of it seemed more familiar, so maybe I had at some point.  The kids loved it too.

As everything (almost) in a film more than 80 years old, it’s of a different era.  Set as it is in the world of the college campus, it’s all about the trends of the day.  The kids asked why everyone was wearing these weird little beanie caps.  That’s just what they did back then.

Harold again plays Harold, this time he’s the titular “Freshman”, so excited to be going to college, having watched a film about the bully fun of being a BMOC, he’s taught himself all of the team cheers, has emulated the quirky habits of the film’s star (which include a silly little jig prior to an introductory handshake), and strives to be just like the Most Popular Man on campus, the hero of the football team.

In this sense, things haven’t changed immensely.  Seeking popularity, but being played for a fool, hazing freshmen, the rubes of the campus, and the insane popularity of football.  Of course, Harold is as earnest as they come, gets duped into spending lots of money in trying to grow friends, and tries to host the biggest party shindig.  Mostly, this happens while everyone shines him on.  The coach of the football team even allows him to think he’s part of the team when he’s really only the water-boy.

Of course, this is Hollywood, so you know he’s going to somehow surpass his problems, win the big football game, and get the girl.  And it’s a lot of fun getting there.  While I think I preferred The Kid Brother, the kids hooted with laughter and really enjoyed the football game sequence.  An excellent, fun, funny film, another classic from the silent era, another legend of Hollywood comedy.

The Kid Brother

The Kid Brother (1927) movie poster

(1927) director Ted Wilde, J.A. Howe
viewed: 08/13/2011

In my ongoing quest to expose my kids to a variety of classic, as well as contemporary, cinema soldiered forth to yet another of Silent Film’s great comedians.  We’ve watched a number of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplain films, as well as some Keaton-Fatty Arbuckle shorts, but we hadn’t forayed into the work of Harold Lloyd.  Which is only a little funny in that the one major silent comedy that I saw more than once as a child was Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last (1923), which may have been an anomaly based on our local PBS channel in Gainesville, FL in the 1970’s.  But as an adult, and as I’ve developed a greater interest in Silent Film in the past decade, I myself hadn’t revisited his films.

So, on Friday night, we nestled down for The Kid Brother, which I had never seen, but had read that it was one of his better films.  It’s great, actually.  And the kids really liked it, too.

Set before the turn of the 20th century, the story takes place in a small town.  Harold is the “kid brother” to two big burly fellows, smaller still than his father, the town’s sheriff and major figure in the town.  With no mother around, Harold is given the “women’s work” and is considered too little/young for any of the more manly stuff.  When a traveling medicine show comes through town and Harold falls for the young woman traveling with it, it also unleashes the two other members of this show as the villains.  The sheriff has collected money from the townspeople to submit for a big dam project, but then the money goes stolen.   And the sheriff’s rival likes to blame the sheriff.  Harold ends up saving the day.

What was particularly striking to me was some of the camerawork in the film.  In an early scene, when Harold is introduced to the young woman, he climbs a tree as she walks away so that he can shout one more thing to her.  But he keeps having to climb higher as he keeps thinking of things to say.  The camera “climbs” up behind him, giving the vantage further down the slope of the girl ever further in the distance.  It’s a remarkable shot, or series of shots.  And as in this scene, there are a number of scenes in which the camera moves around, which is quite unusual for the period.

Lloyd’s “glasses character” as he is known, perhaps because he’s not as implacable as “Old Stoneface” Keaton nor as winsome as Chaplain’s “Little Tramp”, is given to a far greater range of emotions and as a result, the story seems to have more depth and development.  It does indeed build from a relatively slow beginning to a wonderfully madcap adventure with a number of clever and funny stunts and gags aboard an abandoned ship, trying to retrieve the townsfolk’s money from the big thug.

I really enjoyed it a great deal and the kids did too.  It’s funny how now they don’t even bat an eye at transitioning from a full-color summer action movie like Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) or some of their favorite cartoons like Phineas and Ferb to these movies that are 80 years old,  silent, black-and-white.  I’ve often patted myself on the back about this, but I truly enjoy sharing these experiences with them, especially when they are as satisfying as this one was.