AFI Movie Club: SAFETY LAST! (1923)
Star of SAFETY LAST!, Harold Lloyd – one of the most enduring legends of cinema’s silent era – shared his expertise and wisdom with the very first class of the AFI Conservatory in 1969 – lecturing the young filmmakers in the first-ever installment of the school’s signature seminar series, which bears his name to this day as the vaunted Harold Lloyd Master Seminar.
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Watch director Paul Feig introduce SAFETY FIRST!
Trivia about SAFETY LAST!
DID YOU KNOW? Prior to SAFETY LAST!, Harold Lloyd developed his comedy chops as a member of Mack Sennett’s Keystone comedy troupe, and then later in a group founded by actor-turned-producer Hal Roach. He developed a number of comic personas – including the popular Lonesome Luke – before landing on the bespectacled everyman character that would become his most enduring signature.
DID YOU KNOW? Harold Lloyd was inspired to include the film’s famous climbing scene after watching Bill Strother, a real-life steeplejack who was known as “the Human Spider,” climb the side of a Los Angeles building as a stunt. Lloyd later hired Strother to perform in his film. Strother’s character name, “Limpy Bill,” reportedly came into use after Strother himself broke his leg just prior to filming.
DID YOU KNOW? Although Harold Lloyd performed many of his own stunts, a double was used in long shots, and a circus performer was used in the scene in which he dangles from a rope.
DID YOU KNOW? The female star of SAFETY LAST! – credited as “The Girl,” opposite Harold Lloyd’s “The Boy” – was played by Mildred Davis, Lloyd’s real-life wife. The couple was married the year that SAFETY LAST! was released and remained so until her death in 1969.
DID YOU KNOW? The climbing in SAFETY LAST! was filmed using a series of buildings from 1st Street to 9th Street in Los Angeles, CA, including the International Bank Building at the corner of Temple and Spring streets, and a building on the southeast corner of 9th and Broadway. The buildings were of varying heights and sets were constructed on the roofs to match the exterior of the primary building, so that it appeared as if star Harold Lloyd was climbing a single building all the way up.
DID YOU KNOW? By the time of the release of SAFETY LAST!, Harold Lloyd was short a thumb and forefinger on his right hand – which was mangled in a 1919 promotional photoshoot during which Lloyd inadvertently lit a real bomb he assumed was a prop. For his subsequent films, Lloyd wore a glove to conceal the lack of digits.
DID YOU KNOW? Martial arts legend Jackie Chan has spoken of the awe he feels for silent film stars – including Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and SAFETY LAST! star Harold Lloyd – as well as the inspiration he’s taken from their work. He noted that those pioneering stars didn’t have the same production protections that stars enjoy today, and that, with regard to the fearlessness he’s exhibited in his own work, he “learned everything from them.
DID YOU KNOW? The iconic image of Harold Lloyd hanging from the face of a clock has proven its cultural endurance across nearly a century of homages, references and parodies – and in 1994, SAFETY LAST! was inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Registry of culturally, historically or aesthetically significant films. Lloyd himself was honored with a special Academy Award® in 1953 for his contribution to motion picture comedy.
Learn more at the AFI Catalog.
The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions
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-The image of Harold Lloyd hanging from the clock has been pervasive throughout culture since its release in 1923. Can you think of any times – outside of the film itself – that you’ve seen this image, or an homage to it?
-Why do you think this image is so enduring? What about it captures audience imagination, and why do you think it remains such an iconic cultural touchstone?
-How do silent films use the visual language differently than movies today? What about their visual vocabulary is still true of contemporary films?
-Why is Harold Lloyd’s character so appealing? How do you think he reflects an American ideal for that era? How do you think he represents an enduring American ideal central to an idealized American identity today?
-How would you rate SAFETY LAST!?
Watch this exclusive video from the AFI Archive in which Harold Lloyd discusses filming the iconic clock scene in SAFETY LAST!:
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This video shows where Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd filmed scenes from The Kid, Cops, and Safety Last at the same Hollywood alley – https://youtu.be/k_PCBhOgvK4