It’s one of the most iconic images in film comedy: Harold Lloyd, with his round owl glasses and straw hat, dangling perilously from the hands of a clock on the side of a lofty building in downtown Los Angeles. Even those who have no idea who Harold Lloyd is, will likely recognize this oft reproduced image. That scene is easily the most memorable moment from Safety Last!, regarded by most people as the best film of Lloyd’s career.

Safety Last! follows the Boy (Lloyd) as he joins his best Pal (Bill Strother) in Los Angeles. The Boy hopes to achieve success as soon as possible so he can marry The Girl back home (Lloyd’s soon-to-be-real-life-wife, Mildred Davis). He ends up working as a fabric counter clerk in a department store, far from the success he envisioned. The Boy is forced to tolerate the cruel Floorwalker (Westcott Clarke). Worse, the female customers are totally uncivilized, literally running him ragged. Despite all this, The Boy spends every dime to buy his Girl jewelry to convince her he’s doing well. When the Girl shows up to see for herself, The Boy is able to pull off an amazing pretense, pretending to be general manager during store hours.

Safety LastOpportunity for a real advancement finally comes when the store’s owner offers a promotion to any employee who can think of a unique way to get the store some publicity. Remembering that The Pal is a intrepid ‘human fly’ and loves to scale tall buildings, The Boy arranges for a stunt to attract customers. Unfortunately, at the last minute, a cop shows up to arrest The Pal for an earlier misunderstanding. With his buddy no longer available, The Boy is forced to scale the building himself.

Though the other characters are important, the success of the story rides on Lloyd. His confident, yet beleaguered personality makes The Boy’s attempts to succeed all the more believable. Lloyd is the everyman’s comic, unlike his contemporaries Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, there’s something very approachable about him. As such, we root for him when he’s forced to face down pigeons, badminton net, and other obstacles in his attempt to scale the building. The stunt takes up most of the latter half of the film, but never drags. Lloyd relied heavily on his physicality and tremendous body control to pull it off. It’s really one of the great comedic performances, one that has obviously stood the test of time.

Sadly, despite his massive success in the 1920’s (he made his last film in 1947), Harold Lloyd has been largely forgotten. He was one of the most talented comedians the film medium has seen, so one can only hope that Criterion’s release of Safety Last! will renew interest in his work.

Presented in its 1.37:1 aspect ratio, according to the accompanying booklet, “the film is also presented at a variable frame rate of approximately 22 frames per second to conform to film historian Kevin Brownlow’s presentation and the Carl Davis score that accompanies it.” Further, it’s a 1080i transfer, a rare interlaced high-def effort from Criterion, but the interlacing is barely noticeable. There are some scratches and debris, but all and all, it’s a fine transfer, with nice grain structure and a surprisingly detailed image.

In terms of audio, Criterion offers up two lossless scores. The first is a score by Carl Davis with full orchestra and the second is an organ-centric one by Gaylord Carter. They both sound excellent, with nice dynamic range and clarity.

Intertitles are included.

The following special features are available:

  • Audio Commentary with Leonard Maltin and Lloyd expert Richard Correll: Recorded in 2005, Correll, shares a lot of information about Lloyd, including his work ethic, how many of the gags in Safety Last! were filmed, and more.
  • Suzanne Lloyd Introduction (HD, 17:21) Suzanne Lloyd, granddaughter of Harold Lloyd, introduces Safety Last! and discusses the legacy of her grandfather.
  • Three Short Films: Three examples of Lloyd’s earlier work are offered with optional commentary by Richard Correll and John Bengston. Take a Chance (HD, 10:21) from 1918 with Lloyd, Bebe Daniels, and Snub Pollard, Young Mr. Jazz (HD, 9:50) with the same trio from 1919, and His Royal Slyness (HD, 21:46) from 1920 with Lloyd and Mildred Davis in one of her first films with her future husband.
  • Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius (HD, 1:48:00) A two-part television documentary from 1989 written and produced by film historians, preservationists, and documentarians Kevin Brownlow and David Gill. Narrated by acclaimed director Lindsay Anderson the focus is Lloyd’s life and career. Highly recommended.
  • Locations and Effects (HD, 20:37) Craig Barron and John Bengston discuss the Los Angeles locations used for filming Safety Last! and share information on how the trick shots were accomplished.
  • Carl Davis Interview: Scoring for Harold (HD, 24:08) In this 2013 interview, Davis discusses his approach to scoring Safety Last!
  • Booklet: A 22-page illustrated booklet featuring Ed Park’s essay “High-Flying Harold.”