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6:16 pm
Tue July 23, 2013

90 Years Later, 'Safety' Still The Last Word With Harold Lloyd

Originally published on Tue July 23, 2013 7:16 pm

There may be no film image more iconic: Harold Lloyd, high above the street, dangling from the minute hand of a giant department-store clock.

The face of the clock swings down; the minute hand bends. It's been 90 years since the silent era's greatest daredevil shot that sequence, and it still has the power to prompt shrieks and laughter.

Lloyd's character was the All-American Boy, innocent in his horn-rimmed glasses, eager to climb the ladder of success — and like many a social striver before him, he was plagued by anxiety that he'd fall before he got to the top.

Safety Last made that metaphor literal: To earn the money to get the girl, he braves harrowing heights, flocks of pigeons, a mouse up his pants leg, and near the top of his climb, a photo-studio explosion a bit like one that had happened to Lloyd in real life four years earlier. For a publicity shot, he'd lit a cigarette from what he thought was a prop bomb in his right hand — only it wasn't a prop, and his hand was badly mangled.

All of Lloyd's greatest thrill comedies were filmed after that accident. Think about that as you're laughing — and as he's dangling from a ledge by one hand, the other obscured by a glove.

The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray edition has been so gorgeously remastered from Lloyd's own print of Safety Last that it might have been shot yesterday; there's not a speck of dust, or a scratch, or a jittery frame.

And it's packaged with nifty extras, including three Lloyd shorts from earlier in his career, several intriguing commentaries on where he fits in the silent-clown pantheon with Chaplin and Keaton, and a fascinating spiel by effects experts on how he made the entirely impressive heights he scaled appear even higher on film.

That was Harold Lloyd — always trying to top himself, and reaching a comedy summit in Safety Last.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Time now for a home viewing recommendation from our movie critic Bob Mondello. This week, it's a remastered Blu-ray version of the great comedy and thriller from the silent era "Safety Last."

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: You know this film image.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SAFETY LAST")

MONDELLO: Harold Lloyd, high above the street, dangling from the minute hand of a giant department store clock. The face of the clock swings down. The minute hand bends. It's been 90 years since the silent era's greatest daredevil shot that sequence, and it still has the power to prompt shrieks and laughter.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SAFETY LAST")

MONDELLO: Lloyd's character was the all-American boy, innocent in his horn-rimmed glasses, eager to climb the ladder of success and, like many a social striver before him, plagued by anxiety that he'd fall before he got to the top. "Safety Last" made that metaphor literal: To earn the money to get the girl, he braves harrowing heights, flocks of pigeons, a mouse up his pants leg, and near the top of his climb, a photo studio explosion a bit like one that had happened to him in real life four years earlier.

For a publicity shot, he'd lit a cigarette from what he thought was a prop bomb in his right hand - only it wasn't a prop, as a colleague who was there that day remembers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The bomb went off, and he grabbed his wrist. The thumb was gone. The first finger here was dangling, hanging right down the front, swinging around. And he looked at it, and you could see the look of terror that came over his face.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SAFETY LAST")

MONDELLO: All of Lloyd's greatest thrill comedies were filmed after that accident. Think about that as you're laughing and as he's dangling from a ledge by one hand, his other hand obscured by a glove.

Criterion's Blu-ray edition has been so gorgeously remastered from Lloyd's own print of "Safety Last" that it might have been shot yesterday - not a speck of dust or scratch or jittery frame. And it's packaged with nifty extras, including three Lloyd shorts from earlier in his career, intriguing commentaries on where he fits in the silent-clown pantheon with Chaplin and Keaton, and a fascinating spiel by effects experts on how he made the entirely impressive heights he scaled appear even higher.

Harold Lloyd always trying to top himself and reaching a comedy summit in "Safety Last." I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.