April 1, 1923 [Safety Last!]

The Boy has a bad beginning: seemingly behind bars, the noose looming--but he is merely at the train station, arriving in the city to face metaphorical doom: sales-clerking in the dry goods department at the downtown store, buffeted by floorwalkers, managers, customers. And the little owl, Harold Lloyd, peers as best he can through the haze of his drudgery, the fabrics spilling, piling, taking him down with them.

--And all he wants is a fine lavalier pendent for his girl who’s coming to town, hoping to see her beau, the Manager of Managers--or so she’s told. But all the Boy has is his wits--which are quick but meager, a limited resource he eventually all-but-squanders playing Boss, feigning authority.

--But he’s saved by blind chance and climbing skills--at first not his own, but his Pal’s--who climbs like a monkey when he sees the cop he had earlier tripped up. And so the final scheme: Climb the building as a publicity stunt, collect the lavalier money plus. And the comedy of it lies in limited peripheral vision--the cop always just out of the frame, waiting to spring--and the twentieth century’s greatest prop: the tall building, flight upon flight. And so, the Pal pursued within the building, the Boy must become the monkey, and climb without.

--And up up up he goes, bedeviled by every denizen--human, avian, and so on--vertical urban life has to offer. The fluid camera climbs with him, peeks at the Pal’s progress, the cop closing in, always “one more floor” to go--and it’s nothing but shocks and jolts and setbacks:

The dangling rope!

The overhanging ledge!

The pigeon!

The dog!

The mouse up his pants!

The toupee!

The jutting board!

The flagpole!

--And the clock! The amazing clock, from which the Boy dangles like a fretful spider, until he overcomes all and thwarts cop, Boss and gravity, Lloyd’s boyish Hercules stripped to nothing but death-defying gymnastics, the Boy amazed at his own ability to survive, the girl won without a doubt, the city far below. This last long gag will be hard to top--and only a fool would try, after seeing the Boy’s eyes glazed in genuine terror, our laughter stuttered in gasps.


Popular Posts