Follow TV Tropes


Film / Safety Last!

Go To

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's been telling his girlfriend back home (Mildred Davis) that he's 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 saves face by pretending to be the manager of the store, but a more permanent solution soon presents itself when the actual manager says he'll offer $1000note  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 (Bill Strother), a high-rise worker and "human fly" daredevil, will climb up the side of the store building for half of the winnings. However, when Bill finds himself having to flee from an angry policeman, poor Harold is left to perform the dangerous stunt himself.

The shot of Lloyd hanging from the clock is the Signature Scene of his career, and graces the cover of The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray/DVD set for the film. It's the Trope Maker of Stock Clock Hand Hang, and most of the trope's subsequent examples are direct homages.

Now in the Public Domain in the US as of 2019.

This film provides examples of:

  • All Part of the Show: The crowd gathered to watch Harold climb the building believes the increasingly dangerous obstacles he deals with are deliberate theatrics.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Harold gives the viewer an exasperated look while dealing with a fussy customer.
  • 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?"
  • Concussions Get You High: Just as Harold reaches the top of the building, a spinning anemometer on its roof bonks him in the head, leading to him performing a dazed dance on the ledge.
  • Dodgy Toupee: A basically random gag in which Lloyd's toupee flips up in one scene.
  • Determinator: The policeman really, really, REALLY wants to get the guy who tripped him. Even abandoning his post and duty to watch the crowd to chase him through and up the building.
  • Dramatic Irony: "The idea of working in your shirt sleeves! Think of the shock to your customers — women of culture and refinement." In fact, the entire reason that Harold was working in his shirt sleeves was that his very unladylike customers tore off his jacket while mobbing him.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: In spades.
  • Enemy Mine: The angry cop doesn't hesitate to help Bill on pulling a rope to rescue Harold after the clock breaks, but once he's, well, kind of safe, they resume their chase as though nothing has happened.
  • 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 jeweler 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.
  • Happy Ending: As was typical for Lloyd.
  • Iris Out: And Iris In.
  • "Kick Me" Prank: Harold does this to the cop by way of writing "kick me" backwards on a wall in chalk and then managing to press the cop against the wall so that the message rubs onto the back of his uniform. A comical drunk then happily complies.
  • Kneel, Push, Trip: After Harold runs into a cop who happens to come from his hometown, he boasts to Bill about his "pull" with the police and sets up behind the cop while he's on the phone, expecting him to laugh it off. Unfortunately, a second cop has taken his place at the phone by the time Harold talks Bill into going for it and he's angry enough to pursue our heroes for the rest of the film.
  • 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.
  • Painting the Medium: When we get the last glimpse of Harold's buddy evading the cop on the rooftops, he's so far away, that when he calls out to Harold, the title card that speaks for him is printed in very tiny, barely readable letters.
  • Publicity Stunt: The climactic building climb is an attempt by Lloyd's character to drum up publicity for the store he works on.
  • Pun-Based Title: The title is, of course, a humorous reversal of the common idiom, "safety first."
  • 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: Bill telling Harold he'll have to climb yet another floor, but "I'll be right back as soon as I ditch the cop!"
    • After he does this for the fourth or fifth time, a frustrated Harold shouts back at him, "Go to hell, Bill!" (While you obviously can't hear this, and there was no way they were putting it on a title card, you can just as obviously read it on his lips.)
  • Skewed Priorities: After an attacking dog nearly causes Harold to fall off the building, the owner comes over and expresses concern... that Harold almost caused the dog to fall.
  • Squirrels in My Pants: A mouse goes up Harold's pants as he's climbing the building, causing him to dance on the ledge and nearly fall. The crowd below applauds, thinking he's showing off.
  • Stock Clock Hand Hang: Lloyd's character clutches the hands of a large clock as he dangles from the outside of a skyscraper above moving traffic.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: The hero and his love interest have one before he leaves for the city.
  • Wall Crawl: Harold uses gaps in the bricks to scale the building, in perhaps the earliest use of this trope in film, or at least the most famous early use.