Saturday, October 11, 2008


I think I promised long ago to write about Harold Lloyd, and I’m sorry it took so long! Someone asked me the other day to recommend one of his films, and after I gave a rushed, 30-second summation and a thumbs up, I wrote a note to myself to post about Safety Last! (1923) next.

Harold Lloyd is one of the great masters of silent film comedy, and yet his name doesn’t come to mind for most folks in the same way Chaplin’s and even Buster Keaton’s names do. I’m not sure why that is, especially with a film like Safety Last! in his oeuvre; it was recently selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

As I wrote in an earlier post about the charm and the value of silent films for kids, exposing your children to a whole different film methodology will be a learning experience and something I bet they’ll enjoy. I think it engages them on a different level, having their little brains jump from the words on the screen back to the image, putting the two things together to make a whole.

The plot of Safety Last! isn’t all that complicated, or important really (the gist is: Lloyd is trying to both impress his fiance by pretending to be something he’s not, and he’s trying to win a tidy sum of money by pulling off a marketing stunt at the department store which employs him). What makes the film work is Lloyd’s utter likeability and “underdog” character, and of course the wonderful physical comedy. There are mix-ups and stunts and site gags galore that bring on the giggles, but the pivotal and most famous scene in the film is Lloyd’s climbing the side of a building, filmed of course before the advent of special effects and CGI and all that cool trickery to which we are now accustomed. It looks real, feels real, and you hold your breath for what seems like an eternity as things go wrong and he hangs on for dear life to the hands of a tower clock. (A similar scene played out years later in the movie Back to the Future.)

If your kids’ reading skills are up to snuff, I’d say young ones around age seven or eight should have no trouble keeping up with the brief lines of dialogue that need reading, and they should delight in the simplicity and honesty of what they’re seeing on the screen.

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