Safety Last! (1923)

by Paul on July 2, 2012

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My entire life I have been told that the three great silent comedians were Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. I have been watching Chaplin most of my life, and about twenty years ago I became obsessed with Keaton’s work, but somehow I have NEVER seen a Harold Lloyd movie! Today I decided it was time to change this upsetting trend, and what better place to start than with his most popular movie, Safety Last!.

Safety Last! opens in a small town train station where Harold (he uses his real name) is headed to the “big city” in order to make enough money to get married. He tells his betrothed he will send for her as soon as he has earned enough. In the Safety Last!city he finds that earning money is harder than he expected. He also spends the little money that he has on expensive gifts to send back home, with the goal of convincing his girl he is doing well.

He works at a department store where he is constantly having trouble with his superiors, as well as the impossible customers. The one upside in his time in the city is his “pal” who works on high-rise buildings. One day his “pal” is being chased by a police officer and he scales a building to elude the officer.

Soon after, Harold hears that his boss is looking for something that will bring hundreds of customers to the store. Harold says that he can bring in the customers for $1000. He calls his “pal” and offers to pay him $500 if he will climb the 12-story building that Harold works in.

The next day when the “pal” shows up to climb the building, the same police officer from earlier is there, so Harold has to climb the building in his friends place. This of course leads to the famous “clock dangling “ sequence.


It certainly feels good to have seen a Harold Lloyd movie. I realize that I only have a single movie sample of his work, so I have absolutely no intention of judging Lloyd’s place in cinematic history yet, but I definitely see what the attraction to his movies would have been in the 1920’s. His characters certainly represented the “typical” American, much the same way Safety Last!Chaplin’s “tramp” character did. It makes it easy for the audience to identify with what they are watching. (Even if the viewers weren’t actually dangling from a clock in order to obtain money, they certainly felt as if their lives were dangling over the monetary stresses they had.) Lloyd is extremely funny with his acting, meaning he was not attempting to get a quick laugh. Rather than scene after scene of stunts (much the way a Keaton movie feels), every scene of Safety Last! is planed, in order to lead you into the next scene.

Overall I enjoyed Safety Last! very much (as did my children) and I look forward to watching more Harold Lloyd movies soon. I also got the opportunity to watch his 1919 short film Ask Father, which unlike Safety Last!, relied heavily on physical stunts all throughout.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

R.A. Kerr July 3, 2012 at 5:44 PM

I have never seen all of this movie – only bits and pieces – but the clock-dangling scene always makes my heart stop. How did they film that?? Thanks for reviewing this remarkable film.


Paul July 3, 2012 at 6:23 PM

I was highly impressed with the building climb, but even more when I learned that Harold Lloyd had lost a thumb and another finger a few years earlier. It’s hard to climb with only eight fingers!


Laura January 13, 2013 at 10:14 PM

Hi Paul! I just finished writing my review of SAFETY LAST! and included a link to your review at the end, since you mentioned it when I posted my “10 Classics” list earlier this month. I’m glad you let me know about it since I was on vacation when you posted it and thus hadn’t read it at that time.

It’s fun we each chose SAFETY LAST! as our first Harold Lloyd film! I really liked the intelligence behind Lloyd’s humor — as you say, it was all planned to build to the next scene. I tried to describe it in my review by saying that the comedy has many layers.

Hard to imagine he could be so physical missing fingers!!

Best wishes,


Paul January 14, 2013 at 12:01 AM

I’m so thrilled you liked this film as well. After I finished “Safety Last” I watched the rest of the disc to get a better feel for Lloyd and his material. Everyone knows about Chaplin and Keaton but Lloyd has been somewhat left out of the “silent film glory ” that so many film fans have obtained. He was a great comedian and his films should be more widely recognized today.


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