The Accidental Stuntman – Safety Last! (1923)

Scaling buildings.  So this is about a shop clerk (Harold Lloyd).  He only wants to impress the girl that he is interested in (Mildred Davis), but he somehow gets roped into a publicity stunt that involves him climbing the side of a tall building without a safety net.  Now my familiarity with silent films is sparser than I would actually like it to be.  I have a pretty good background in the stony faced Buster Keaton, but that’s about it.  I still have to tackle the library of Chaplin, which I’m certain will happen at some point, but there is one person that gets frequently overlooked, and that is Harold Lloyd and his comedic stylings.  This is his most well known movie, and if you enjoy watching films from a historical perspective, this is absolutely mandatory viewing.

2It starts simple enough, just a guy struggling to succeed in business and in love.

Now this is a silent comedy feature, and like most, it is short.  It’s only 70 minutes, and the first 40 minutes are quality, but it is nothing overly noteworthy when compared to other similar movies that you may have already seen.  The last half hour is really what makes this something special, and that is when you get to the spectacle of what Harold Lloyd is doing, which is climbing this building, story by story.  It builds up the anticipation marvelously, and then when you finally get there, you are on the edge of your seat.  It does a terrific job of capturing the height that he is reaching, and it makes you hold your breath, because you really buy into the fact that the smallest of slips would mean the end of this man.

1And wouldn’t you know that there are people on the inside that have no idea on what is happening on the bricks just outside.

The shots and camera angles are perfect in this, and when that clock breaks, you can hardly watch because you are covering your eyes.  I know I keep coming back to this finale, but that is really what this movie is all about.  I got this on Criterion Blu-ray a while back as a gift, and as per usual, the print they released is nothing short of pristine, which is something that Criterion is renown for doing.  Obviously it goes without saying that this is the better way to watch it when compared to what is available on YouTube (which is how I first experienced this), but watch this little movie any way that you can, because it is a must see.

Safety Last! (1923) *****

– Critic for Hire

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