Our characters get themselves into a very precarious, dangerous situation. They try to flee from danger and often they have no choice but to climb up in a cool Clock Tower and the showdown happens atop.
Invariably, they find themselves clutching a giant hand of the enormous clock and eventually they are hanging by their fingertips. The clock hands are usually big enough to sit or stand on, but as the clock hands move, people are in danger to slide off of them. The movement of the hands is used for dramatic tension as they slowly tick into a position that will dump the character off to his doom. It adds moment of drama as they are hanging on for dear life as the hand slowly turns until they'll have no choice to slide off the hand and fall off. Sometimes this effect is used by the villain as a deathtrap.
The characters can:
- roll, pull themselves up and reach a window or window ledge and climb inside
- fall, but somehow they manage to clutch the dial or something else on the tower
- be taken by their hand and pulled up by a friendly character
- fall, Disney Death style (they survive the fall)
- fall, Disney Villain Death style (they die)
This trope makes for a great drama during a chase scene, fight scene or any other showdown. And it's visually stunning. The very iconic image from the Signature Scene of Safety Last! is the Trope Maker, and it's one of the most recognisable images of the silent era of movies. Lots of examples of this trope are a direct homage to the movie.
If the work is set in London, the showdown will most likely happen on the Great Clock of the Palace of Westminster.note
- During the climax of The Castle of Cagliostro, Big Bad Count Cagliostro catches up to the heroes and captures Princess Clarisse, forcing Lupin to give up the family's royal rings in exchange for her life. But when he doesn't honor his end of the bargain and attempts to off Lupin, Clarisse tries to jump off the tower and take him down with her. However, the Count stops their fall by jabbing his sword into the tower's stone wall, just above the giant clock hand. While hanging, he kicks off Clarisse before climbing back onto the tower to solve the riddle behind his family's long-lost treasure.
- In the final chase scene of The Great Mouse Detective, Basil of Baker Street hangs on the giant hand of a tower clock when he fights with the villain, Professor Padraic Ratigan.
- In The Thirty Nine Steps (1978), the hero Richard Hannay attempts to halt the clock's progress (to prevent a linked bomb detonating) by hanging from the minute hand of its western dial.
- In Back to the Future, the 1955 Doc comes up with a plan to send Marty back to 1985 by channeling the electricity from a lightning strike that's set to hit the clock tower. On the night of the thunderstorm, a bolt strikes a tree branch and disconnects the cables the Doc has set up to capture the lightning. At the last minute, he has to go up onto the clock tower and reconnect the cables. When the platform he's standing on breaks, he grabs onto the clock hands to keep from falling to the ground. Earlier in the film, in a bit of Foreshadowing, one of Doc's clocks is shaped like Harold Lloyd from Safety Last!.
- Hugo shows the iconic part of Safety Last! where the main character hangs from clock hands in a movie theater. Later, Hugo escapes from the Inspector by crawling out of a large clock and hanging from its hands. The scene is also shown on the poster.
- Oscar's poster has Snaps hang from the hands of a large clock, referring to the day's mounting insanity.
- Harold Lloyd's character in Safety Last! clutches the hands of a large clock as he dangles from the outside of a skyscraper above moving traffic.
- In the movie Shanghai Knights (a sequel to Shanghai Noon), the heroes find themselves in Victorian London. While Chon Wang (Jackie Chan) fights inside the Great Clock of the Palace of Westminster, Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson) spends the time crawling on the giant hand of the tower clock. Chon and his opponent fall off the window. Roy manages to catch Chon's hand and they both hang for their lives.
- In the much earlier Jackie Chan film, Project A (first movie), a chase scene have Dragon Ma (Chan) being pursued by the main villain's henchmen to the top of a clock tower, where a fight scene inevitably leads to Man falling out of the clock and hanging onto it's hands. Ma ends up falling from the clock's side, a few storeys down through two layers of tarp awning, a shot which Chan insists on making "three" takes. According to Chan himself, that shot was included in the movie as a direct homage to Safety Last! above.
- The Dad's Army episode "Time on my hands" has a variation - a German pilot bails out of his plane over Walmington-on-Sea and gets his parachute tangled around the hands of the town hall clock before he hits the ground.
- In one episode of Monk, a body was placed on a hand of a clock, falling off the tower when the killer had an alibi.
- The pilot of Moonlighting has Maddie sliding off the clock hand and accidentally kicking the panel around 9 o'clock (containing some stolen diamonds) with her high heel.
- In an episode of Batman: The Animated Series, the Clock King kidnaps Mayor Hill in retribution for his bankruptcy and ties him to the hands of a giant clock on the 7th anniversary of the event. Both Mayor and Batman hangs from the giant hand and the giant dial.
- Parodied in Futurama, wherein Fry ends up hanging from a number on a giant digital clock. He's fine until the number changes from 6 to 7, making his horizontal hold halfway up disappear.
- A later Looney Tunes short, "Skyscraper Caper", had Daffy Duck do this when he falls from a very tall construction site. He catches onto one of the hands of a clock tower and looks down at how far up he still is. But then the clock breaks down, causing Daffy to resume falling.
- Mr. Magoo: In the cartoon "The Explosive Mr. Magoo", Mr. Magoo steps out of a building window, thinking it was an elevator, and happens to step onto the second hand of the clock. When he finally tips over and falls, he thinks the elevator operator is being too rough. Fortunately, the awnings at the entrance break his fall.
- In the Phineas and Ferb episode "Quantum Boogaloo", the band Bowling for Soup slide off a giant clock during a music video.
- In Rocky and Bullwinkle, the culmination of the Box Tops arc has the characters going on a chase throughout the tallest building in town, which culminates in a showdown in the mechanism room of the clock tower. At the end of this, Bullwinkle ends up dangling from the clock hands, visible to the whole town, and the hand he's hanging from moves closer and closer to vertical...