Harold Lloyd may not be as recognizable a name as Charlie Chaplin, and his face less familiar than the droopy-eyed deadpan expression of Buster Keaton, but his comedy is every bit as timeless. Safety Last! (1923) is to Lloyd what The Gold Rush was to Chaplin and The General to Keaton. Containing some of his most recognizable bits, including many which were borrowed by Johnny Depp’s film-obsessed character in Benny & June, Safety Last! is a perfect presentation of Lloyd’s unique comedy style. It is easy to see why these three comedy giants are often lumped together in comparison; each using a similar style of humor which is drastically altered with the unique personality each brings to the material.
In Safety Last! Lloyd plays a small-town boy in love with a small-town girl, who gladly sends her man away in hopes that he becomes rich in the big city. The boy is employed as a lowly department store clerk, but he writes letters home boasting of a greater position in order to impress his bride-to-be. These lies come back to bite the boy when his beloved arrives for a surprise visit. When she has a look of horror and sadness at the sight of him as a clerk, the boy finds clever ways to continue his lies. This helps his situation temporarily, but a permanent solution arrives when the head of the department store agrees to pay a large sum for a dramatic publicity stunt to draw a crowd to the store.
This publicity stunt is meant to be carried out by the boy’s roommate, who is able to scale the side of buildings with ease. When a mishap occurs and the roommate is unable to climb, the boy is forced to go in his place. This stunt results in the film’s best comedy, including the iconic image of Lloyd hanging from a clock, which Jackie Chan imitated in Project A. Chan has stated Lloyd as an inspiration for much of his work, which is easily noticeable despite the fact that he makes martial arts films. As we all know from the blooper reels during the credits of his films, Chan does his own stunts, as did Lloyd. Even more incredible than the climbing Lloyd does in Safety Last! is the fact that he did it missing several fingers. The fingers were blown off in a promotional accident ironically, and Lloyd wore a glove to hide the impairment. Watching to see the way he favors his left hand while climbing is a fun activity for repeat viewers. I always try, but usually get too distracted by the film itself and find myself lost in cinematic heaven.
The Blu-ray release of this masterpiece includes a newly restored 2K digital film transfer which is as near flawless as I have seen from an early 20s film. The 1989 score from Carl Davis was synchronized and restored for presentation, presented in uncompressed stereo. There is also an alternate score by organist Gaylord Carter from the late 1960s. The special features include an audio commentary by Harold Lloyd archivist Richard Correll and film critic Leonard Maltin. The film has an optional introduction by Lloyd’s granddaughter, but the truly special features are the three short films from the comic genius. There are two one-reel films (Take a Chance, Young Mr. Jazz) and one two-reel film (His Royal Slyness). Also included is a 108-minute documentary about Lloyd from the late 1980s, and a new documentary called Locations and Effects. The booklet insert features an essay from film critic Ed Park and plenty of iconic photographic shots perched on the side of the building.
Entertainment Value: 9/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 9/10
Historical Significance: 10/10
Disc Features: 9/10