Film: Safety Last!

Safety Last! (1923) is a seven-reel silent comedy film from Hal Roach Studios, starring Harold Lloyd.

Harold Lloyd plays, uh, Harold Lloyd, who is a clerk in a department store. He has been telling his girlfriend back home that he is a big success and sending her presents he can't really afford, which causes a problem when she comes to the city to visit him. Harold temporarily solves this problem by pretending to be the manager of his department store, but a more permanent solution offers itself when the real manager says he'll offer $1000 to anyone who can come up with a good publicity stunt to attract attention to the store. Harold concocts a scheme in which his good friend Bill will climb up the side of the building for $500. However, a local cop is after Bill and Bill has to flee, leaving poor Harold to do the dangerous stunt himself.

The shot of Lloyd hanging from the clock is the Signature Scene of Lloyd's career, gracing the cover of the DVD box set.


This film provides examples of:

  • Captain Obvious: The old lady who gives Harold some sage advice as he's climbing the building.
    "Don't you know you might get hurt?"
  • Dodgy Toupee: A basically random gag in which Lloyd's toupee flips up in one scene.
  • Excited Show Title!
  • Fake-Out Opening / Reveal Shot: The opening scene makes it look like an execution is about to unfold. We see Harold behind bars, the gallows waiting in the back, his sobbing relatives and a minister coming to shake his hand. Cut to a shot from a wider angle which reveals the setting to be a train station and the occasion a Train-Station Goodbye.
  • Greedy Jew: Harold buys a chain for his girlfriend from a shifty jeweller with a hooked nose called Silverstein, who constantly wrings his hands in avarice (the accompanying musician(s) shift into Klezmer-type music here, just so we get the point). Harold, embarrassed, starts imitating the man's hand-wringing. Despite being more than a tad racist in this day and age, the joke is still amusing to modern audiences, because of the added irony of knowing that Harold Lloyd himself was Jewish.
  • Happy Ending: As was typical for Lloyd.
  • Iris Out: An Iris In.
  • Literal Cliffhanger: Takes up most of the third act. Dangling from the clock and other portions of the department store building wasn't quite as dangerous as it looked; clever camera work disguised the fact that there was a rooftop underneath Lloyd.
  • Maintain the Lie: Harold goes to increasingly desperate measures after his girlfriend, who believes he's a successful manager at the department store, comes to pay him a visit.
  • Pun-Based Title
  • Roof Hopping: The last glimpse of Harold's buddy, who was supposed to make the climb, shows him running across the rooftops, promising to come back when he ditches the cop.
  • Running Gag: "I'll be right back as soon as I ditch the cop!"
    • At one point after he does this, a frustrated Harold shouts back at him, "Go to hell, Bill!" (While you obviously can't hear this, you can just as obviously read it on his lips.)
  • Squirrels in My Pants: A mouse goes up Harold's pants as he's climbing the building.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: The hero and his love interest have one before he leaves for the city.