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 customer).


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 watchman."

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 amazement.

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 house!"

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 reserved.

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