Harold LLoyd in one of the best silent comedies ever
Loves: Classic comedies
Likes: Harold Lloyd, good slapstick
Dislikes: Most silent films
Hates: Most modern slapstick
The story of Safety Last! follows the Boy (Lloyd) as he seeks his livelihood in the big city of Los Angeles, in the hopes of making enough to wed his beloved Girl (Lloyd's soon-to-be real-life wife Mildred Davis.) Working as a fabric counter clerk in a department store though, fortune eludes him, but he spends every dime to buy his Girl jewelry to convince her he's doing well. Eventually the scheme catches up with him, but he has a plan to make some quick cash, involving a human fly who plans to climb the side of the store's building for some easy publicity. It's a moderately simple story broken into two main parts, the store struggles and the big climb, but it's meticulously paced to keep the energy high and the laughs flowing thanks to precision gags by Lloyd and an impressive filmmaking effort..
The thing about this massive stunt, which takes up most of the second half of the film (and somehow never feels overdone) is that unlike in today's digital world, Lloyd really put himself at risk in these scenes (to a lesser, but no less dangerous degree) and relied pretty much entirely on his control of his physicality, resulting in some hair-raising moments on the edge of ledges, if you know how it was shot. Once you're aware, you'll get that chilling feeling as you watch him dance on the edge of disaster. Even without that knowledge, it's a fantastic comedic performance, one that has and should stand the test of time. Yes, some bits probably played better back in the day, like when things like floorwalkers actually still existed, but the grace of the comedic dance is easy to appreciate in any era.
You get two options when it comes to the audio, as you can choose Carl Davis' 1989 score, which is presented as an LCPM 2.0 track, or an improvised score by organist Gaylor Carter, recorded in 1969 and delivered in an LCPM 1.0 track. Both tracks sound both clean and strong, yet appropriately "aged," and your preferences will be subjective more than anything, though personally, Davis' score, which was planned out and works better with the action on scren, is the better experience, as Carter seems to rely on integrating old standards into his performance. At the same time, Carter's performance is likely closer to the original theatrical experience many had at their local movie house.
Three newly restored shorts from Lloyd that pre-date Safety Last! are also included, with Take a Chance (10:21), Young Mr. Jazz (9:50) and His Royal Slyness (21:39) offered with optional commentary from Correll and film historian John Bengtson. The commentary tracks are full of details about the film, and are also something of a travelogue of early 20th-century Los Angeles, as the pair talk a lot about the filming locations. There's some slight repetition on Correll's part between the feature commentary and these tracks, but there's plenty of new, short-specific info.
The feature film isn't even the largest element on this disc, as it includes Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius, a two-part, 108-minute documentary from the American Masters series on the man, his career as a filmmaker, his personal life and his legacy. Featuring interviews with many of his contemporaries and families, along with home movies and set photos, the film reveal a full picture of the man from his origins to his great successes to his late-career failures right to his eventual passing, with stops along the way to look at his biggest productions along the way. It's just about the perfect capsule summary of Lloyd's life.
A pair of new featurettes follow, starting with "Locations and Effects," a short (20:37) documentary on Lloyd's impressive pioneering work in terms of the visual effects, stunts and "thrill comedies." Bengtson returns, joined by FX expert Craig Barron, to discuss the work that went into his signature bits, particularly the big climb. The best parts are a visit to the location of the shooting by the two men, an animation that shows how the shots were likely achieved, as well as several behind-the-scenes photos. The remaining new featurette "Carl Davis: Scoring for Harold" (24:08) is an interview with the composer and conductor, where he talks about his score for Safety Last!, his work creating scores for silent films and how a silent-film score is created, with specific scene examples, in a kind of audio commentary for the score. It would have been nice to hear some thoughts about alternate scores though, like the one included on this disc.
In addition to details about the Blu-ray, the beautifully-designed booklet includes "High-Flying Harold," an essay on Lloyd's work by film writer Ed Park that's a good companion to the documentary on the disc.
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