Hal Roach Productions
Cast: Harold Lloyd (Harold), Mildred Davis (Mildred), Bill
Strothers (Limpy Bill), Noah Young (policeman), Westcott B. Clarke
(Mr. Stubbs), Mickey Daniels (The Kid), Anna Townsend (elderly
Harold leaves his girlfriend, Mildred, behind in Great Bend
to go to the city and seek his fortune. He promises to send for
her "as soon as I've made good." Midred coos, "Oh,
Harold, it would just break my heart if you failed."
So, Harold has no choice but to make her think he has made
good, although he is only a clerk in the De Vore Department Store.
His roommate is Limpy Bill, who works construction, and both of
them stay broke. As one title reads, "One pocketbook between
them - usually empty."
Because of their paucity of finances, they must be rich in
inventiveness to survive - pawning their possessions, hiding from
the landlady, etc.
Harold wants to make Mildred think he's a success so he buys
her a lavalier, but has to pawn their phonograph to do so. Since
he can't yet afford a chain for it, he writes her that the chain
pattern didn't suit him, so he's left it with the Tiffany expert
for alteration. Harold certainly hasn't become the success he
had hoped he would be.
In hopes of moving up in position at the store, Harold is
hardworking and dedicated. One morning as he waits outside for
the store to open, a delivery man tells him, "Keep on bein'
earlier every mornin', son, an' you'll be President - or a night
One day after work, Harold encounters an old friend from Great
Bend who is now a policeman in the city. The two slap each other
on the back and are genuinely happy to see each other. After they
part company, Bill comes along. Harold notices his buddy, the
policeman, on the phone at the end of the street. He gets an idea,
and tells Bill he has "pull" with the cops and can get
out of anything. To prove it, he tells Bill he will kneel behind
the cop at the end of the street while Bill pushes him over. Then,
Harold says, ". . . watch me square it."
What Harold doesn't know is that another cop has taken his
friend's place. When Bill pushes him over and Harold realizes
the mistake, he hides, the cop having never seen him. But Bill
is in trouble as the cop pursues him in earnest. To escape capture,
Bill scales the side of a tall building while Harold watches in
Harold's letters and presents to Mildred cause her mother
to comment one day, "Don't you think it's dangerous for a
young man to be alone in the city with so much money?" So,
with that bit of logic in hand,
Mildred decides to pay Harold a surprise visit.
When she arrives at the store, Harold is, at first, glad to
see her. Then he realizes how hard it's going to be to keep up
the charade of being a "big shot" in the De Vore Department
Store. However, with some inventiveness and a series of comical
twists of fate, he pulls it off. He even manages to convince her
that he is the store's General Manager, even to the point of taking
her to his (the General Manager's) office when the GM is out.
Just as he is about to get Mildred out of the store, she tells
him she left her purse in his office (the General Manager's office)
and he must go get it. Harold knows the GM is back in his office,
and hesitates outside the door before going in. While trying to
decide what to do, he hears the General Manager tell another employee,
"I'd give a thousand dollars to anyone for a new idea - one
that would attract an enormous crowd to our store." Harold
has visions of Bill scaling the side of the building and rushes
in. "Will you give me a thousand dollars, sir, if - if -
I can draw hundreds of people to our store?" he spurts. After
an initial reluctance, the General Manager agrees, and Harold
lines up Bill for the job.
An announcement in the newspaper the next day states that
a "Mystery Man" will climb the Bolton Building, where
the De Vore Department Store is located, at 2 p.m. Bill's picture
accompanies the article, but his face has been blanked out to
maintain the "mystery." The policeman that Harold and
Bill angered earlier sees the photo and is confident this is the
man he's looking for.
The policeman posts himself at the base of the building waiting
for Bill's arrival. When Harold and Bill come on the scene, they
see the cop and immediately hide. Harold says he will get rid
of the cop, but his attempts are unsuccessful. Finally, Bill tells
Harold to climb to the second floor where he will put on Harold's
coat and hat and finish the climb.
However, just as Bill goes into the building, the cop spots
him, and the chase is on. At each floor of the 12-story climb,
Harold believes Bill will take his place, but the cop can't be
evaded. One hair-raising mishap after another occurs during the
climb, but Harold finally makes it to the top where Mildred is
waiting for him. The two walk arm in arm across the roof top.
The scene fades as Harold walks through some fresh tar first leaving
his shoes behind and then his socks, oblivious to it all because
he is now safe, $1,000 richer, and has his best girl in his arms.
So much has been made of the final 20 minutes of "Safety
Last" where Harold climbs the building that the fine comedy
found in the first 54 minutes of the film tends to be overlooked.
The first 54 minutes don't drag, either. Lloyd keeps throwing
one gag after another at us, nonstop. And they're all good.
The film opens with a great sight gag. The opening titles
says, "The boy - He has seen the sun rise for the last time
in Great Bend - before taking the long, long journey." We
then see Harold, head hung low, peering through a set of bars
at his girlfriend and mother. In the background we see what looks
to be a hangman's noose. As the camera pulls back, we see a man
in uniform (a policeman?) followed by a priest. Then Harold turns,
and we see the whole scene is a train station, not a prison as
we were led to believe.
This is immediately followed by Harold picking up a black
lady's basket with her child in it rather than his suitcase. No
sooner is this straightened out than Harold looks back at his
girlfriend and mother, waves heartily, and reaches back to grab
the handbar on the side of the train but grabs a ride on an ice
wagon instead. When this is realized, he takes off down the track
to catch his train before the scene closes. And this is all within
the first three and a half minutes of the film!
One of the most memorable gags in the film comes about as
a result of the two roommates' inability to pay their rent. As
soon as the landlady knocks at the door, the two run to their
long coats hanging in the corner, put them on, hook the collar
on the wall hook, put their hands in the pockets, and draw their
legs up into the coat. When the landlady comes in, it appears
the coats are just hanging there, and she can find no sign of
the two "elusive" boarders.
A superbly staged sequence in the film finds Harold outside
the store very early in the morning waiting for it to open. As
he dawdles with pencil and paper, he decides the back of a laundry
truck would be a more comfortable place to sit. From inside the
front of the truck, the old driver, who is practically deaf, pushes
a handle, and the rear doors close. Harold is trapped. Thirty
minutes later, with Harold exhausted from trying to get the old
man's attention, the truck finally comes to a stop. Harold leaps
from the back with only ten minutes to get to work on time.
Although attempts to get to work by trolley and hitching a
ride in an automobile prove unsuccessful, he does hit upon an
ingenious plan to have a couple of ambulance workers, thinking
he is injured, transport him to work.
Unfortunately, he is already late, but comes up with another
brilliant idea for sneaking in. A black worker is taking dressed
mannequins in one by one. Harold poses as one, successfully clocks
in on time by setting the clock back, but lets forth with a loud
sneeze as the black man is transporting him through the store.
Thinking the mannequin has come to life, the man wildly tries
to dislodge himself from Harold's grip. We later find him up a
ladder in the store refusing to come down.
There are so many bits and sequences
in the film that range from comical to downright hilarious. The
big sale where dozens of women are grabbing at cloth, demanding
Harold's attention and generally pulling and tugging at him. A
scene where he goes to put some cloth back on a shelf but accidentally
grabs a lady's sash spinning her around on the stool. Immediately
after this, he goes to rip a large piece of cloth in two but accidentally
rips the coattails of the snobbish Mr. Stubbs, the store's floorwalker.
The entire sequence in which he overcomes one challenge after
another to keep Mildred convinced he is a man of "position"
in the store is a series of very funny gags and close calls. All
of this clips along at a good pace. The one and only sequence
that slows at all in the film is when Harold gets paid, looks
longingly in a window at a businessman's 50 cent lunch, but then
spots a lavalier chain in a window at half price. He and the Jewish
owner have a short bit with some ethnic humor, but this is a far
cry from the fun-filled gags of the rest of the film.
Although Lloyd is obviously the star and the funny man in
this picture, he is ably supported by a capable cast.
Mildred Davis is sufficiently cute in the part as his girlfriend.
She portrays such an innocence and naiveté that we can
believe she is taken in by Harold's charade. Those who know something
about Lloyd's personal life would find a comment she made interesting.
After being duped into believing he has met with success in the
city, she comments, "And just think - you've made money enough
already for our little house." Shortly after the filming
of "Safety Last," Lloyd and Davis were married. Within
two years, they had started construction on one of the largest
showplaces in Beverly Hills. Yes, coincidentally, in real life
Harold had made enough money, but it was hardly a "little
Bill Strothers played the part of "Limpy Bill."
Lloyd got the idea for "Safety Last" from watching Strothers
scale a building in downtown Los Angeles one day. Strothers was
hired for the part of his buddy in the picture and does a very
commendable job in his first acting role.
The imposing Noah Young, who usually played the villain in
so many of the Hal Roach shorts, is the policeman who gives chase
to Limpy Bill throughout the climbing sequence. Young is always
good, and always menacing, in any role he undertakes.
Lloyd didn't make a feature during the silent era that was
"bad." All of them were good, so it's just a matter
of deciding which one might be a little better than another one.
Everyone has his or her personal favorite. For some, it is "Safety
Last," and it's easy to see why. But don't be misled by those
critics who claim it's a weak film built around a "brilliant"
20-minute climax. That's not true. It's a very good film all the
way through with quite a few "brilliant" bits of business.
With the pace Lloyd sets and the nonstop gags throughout the film,
it's an all too short 74 minutes.
copyright 1998 by Tim Lussier. All rights