Safety Last! Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
Some of the most iconic images of silent comedies come from three of the greats: Buster Keaton narrowly avoiding death by falling house in STEAMBOAT BILL, JR.; Charlie Chaplin weaving in and tweaking giant gears in MODERN TIMES; Harold Lloyd dangling from a skyscraper clock’s hands in SAFETY LAST!
Like Keaton and Chaplin, Lloyd’s films often centered on his trademark character (picture horn-rimmed glasses) going to unbelievable lengths to get the girl. Here, Harold (also known as The Boy) leaves Great Bend for life in the city, where he’ll land a high-paying job and prove himself a success and worthy of the affections of his love, The Girl (Mildred Davis, who would be married to Lloyd from 1923 until her death in 1969). The Boy lands a job as a clerk at the DeVore Department Store—not exactly a position that will rake in millions.
SAFETY LAST! is filled with excellent gags from start to finish. Take, for one, the opening scene, where we’re led to believe that The Boy is behind bars awaiting his death by hanging, until a perfectly timed reverse shot reveals the location to be a train station, with the bars a divider between the waiting room and platform and the noose a pickup hoop for the conductors. Or when The Boy and his roommate (Bill Strother) duck their landlord by hiding out in coats hung on hangers. Or when The Boy disguises himself as a mannequin to get on the store floor. Or when he lashes out at his boss (Westcott Clarke)—described as “muscle-bound from patting himself on the back—to maintain his dignity and faux-status in front of the visiting Girl. And, of course, there is the grand finale: Lloyd accepting his boss’ $1,000 offer to attract publicity to the store by scaling all twelve stories, only to find himself fending off pigeons and clutching for his dear life.
It might be easy to assume this was all done with some effect that was popular in the 1920s. But Lloyd, like his contemporaries, relied on doing his own stunt work, and so the comedian used clever techniques, manipulation and illusions (no, he didn’t really scale The International Savings & Exchange Bank Building) to make cinema history—all with only eight fingers. Lloyd may not have as recognizable of a face as Keaton or Chaplin, but he was dubbed “the third genius” for a reason. (All three were commemorated on U.S. postage stamps in 1994.)
SAFETY LAST! was directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, who had also helmed 1923’s WHY WORRY?, 1924’s GIRL SHY and 1925’s THE FRESHMAN, all starring Lloyd. It was produced by Mack Sennett’s main rival, Hal Roach Studios, which was also responsible for the OUR GANG series and the pairing of Laurel and Hardy. Both of those were wildly successful, but Roach’s collaborations with Harold Lloyd remain some of the finest examples of silent comedy to ever be preserved for modern audiences.
SAFETY LAST! BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1.37:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a DTF Scanity film scanner from a 35 mm nitrate print from Harold Lloyd’s personal collection, made from the original negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Image Systems’ Phoenix was used for small dirt, jitter, flicker, and grain management.”
As is the case with all of Criterion’s Blu-rays of silent-era works, extreme care has been taken to clean up the majority of dirt while maintaining the intended look of the picture. And while there are scratches and other marks throughout, that’s to be expected for a film that’s now 90 years old, and there has been no unnecessary tinkering or sharpening, which would do more to displease film purists than enhance the picture. Overall, this high-definition transfer is an admirable one.
Audio: Silent with English intertitles. Included are two scores: Carl Davis’s 1989 orchestral score and Gaylord Carter’s improvised 1969 score.
Both scores, the newest of which is a quarter-century old, sound quite clear throughout. Fans of SAFETY LAST! will want to give both a listen on separate occasions.
Audio commentary featuring film critic Leonard Maltin and director and Harold Lloyd archivist Richard Correll: In this commentary from 2005, Matlin and Correll sit down to discuss the life and work of Harold Lloyd, as well as his most famous film, SAFETY LAST! This is an incredibly detailed track, with the duo providing a wealth of biographical and anecdotal bits on a man they are both clearly major fans of.
Suzanne Lloyd Introduction (17:21): Lloyd, who serves as president of Harold Lloyd Entertainment, introduces her late grandfather’s film and his place in cinema history.
Short Films: This Blu-ray houses three of Lloyd’s short films: 1918’s TAKE A CHANCE (10:21), 1919’s YOUNG MR. JAZZ (9:50) and 1920’s HIS ROYAL SLYNESS (21:46).
HAROLD LLOYD: THE THIRD GENIUS (1:48:00): Written and produced by historians, preservationists and documentarians Kevin Brownlow and David Gill, and narrated by filmmaker Lindsay Anderson (IF…), this two-part television documentary explores the life and career of Lloyd.
Location and Effects (20:37): Here, film writer John Bengtson and visual effects expert Craig Barron get into the illusions Harold Lloyd employed in SAFETY LAST!
Carl Davis: Scoring for Harold (24:08): Composer Davis details his work on a number of silent films.
Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 20-page booklet featuring an essay by critic Ed Park.