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Safety Last! – The Criterion Collection #662 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

June 6, 2013 by  



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“Safety Last!” is a magnificent film and is a Harold Lloyd masterpiece that will continue to entertain silent comedy fans for many generations to come.  Not only are you getting one classic film but also three newly restored Harold Lloyd shorts plus the long, sought after Harold Lloyd documentary “Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius”.   This release is deserving of five stars!  Highly recommended!

Image are courtesy of © 2013 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Safety Last! – The Criterion Collection #662

YEAR OF FILM: 1923

DURATION: 103 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:37:1 aspect ratio, Black and White, Silent

COMPANY: Harold Lloyd Entertainment, Inc./THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: June 18, 2013

Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor

Story by Hal Roach, Sam Taylor, Tim Whelan

Titles by H.M. Walker

Executive Producer: Suzanne Lloyd Hayes

Producer: Hal Roach

Cinematography by Walter Lundin

Music: Carl Davis

Edited by Thomas J. Crizer

Starring:

Harold Lloyd as The Boy

Mildred Davis as The Girl

Bill Strother as The Pal

Noah Young as The Law

The comic genius of silent star Harold Lloyd is eternal. Chaplin was the sweet innocent, Keaton the stoic outsider, but Lloyd—the modern guy striving for success—is us. And with its torrent of perfectly executed gags and astonishing stunts, Safety Last! is the perfect introduction to him. Lloyd plays a small-town bumpkin trying to make it in the big city, who finds employment as a lowly department-store clerk. He comes up with a wild publicity stunt to draw attention to the store, resulting in an incredible feat of derring-do on his part that gets him started on the climb to success. Laugh-out-loud funny and jaw-dropping in equal measure, Safety Last! is a movie experience par excellence, anchored by a genuine legend.

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Many silent comedy fans consider Harold Lloyd as one of the three silent film comedy kings of the silent era alongside notable names such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.  Lloyd’s comedies were enjoyable and similar to Keaton, Lloyd had the flair of doing his own stuntwork and when one is to watch his films today, there were a few that literally makes people gasp.

But the difference between these three men is that Harold Lloyd is not as well-known because unlike the other two, he wanted complete ownership of his films and if they were to be re-released or shown on television, he set the price high because he did not want TV commercials interrupting his film.  While, some appreciate Lloyd’s business-sense at the time to have complete ownership but also to be one of the first who looked into preserving his films, the unfortunate aspect is that unlike Chaplin or Keaton, his name would not be as well-known to the general public.

Of course, times have changed as more and more people are becoming fans of silent cinema, especially comedies, because they quickly learn that there are three men who earned a lot of money through the box office and were successful.  And for Harold Lloyd, one can only be thrilled that this wonderful filmmaker has been acknowledged by the Criterion Collection and his most popular film, “Safety Last!”, would be released by the Criterion Collection, in HD on Blu-ray!

One such film was “Safety Last!”, a silent film from 1923 and one of the many films included in the Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection box set.   An impressive box set featuring over 25 classic comedies including well-known Lloyd films such as “Safety Last!”, “The Freshman”, “Speedy!” and many more.

If one was to see the film today, one would be impressed and stunned as their was no CGI, there was no green/blue screen.  This was Harold Lloyd showing us the most extreme when it comes to filmmaking by climbing a skyscraper to the onlookers below Los Angeles.  Needless to say, audiences were shocked about how far Lloyd had went with this film and although there were mini-stages built, this was one risky film that was adored back then and now being discovered by many today.

“Safety Last!” is about The Boy (played by Harold Lloyd) who moves to the big city in 1922 in order to make more income.  He leaves his beloved girlfriend (played by Mildred Davis) back at home and promises that he will marry her once he does well in the city.

Since moving to the city, he has sent his girlfriend letters everyday but the boy makes his life seem like life is going extremely well and that he is a manager at a major department store.

This is far from the truth as he lives with his pal (played by Bill Strother) who are late on their rent and have to hide from the landlord. The boy barely makes any money as he works at the De Vore department store in the fabric department and is an employee who often gets into trouble.

One day after finishing his shift, he runs into a police officer who happens to be an old friend of Harold.  The two joke around and when the boy meets up with his roommate, he jokes that he has influence with the police and persuades his friend to knock the policeman over.

What the boy doesn’t know is that when they are talking, his friend the police officer has left and another police officer has come in his place.  Needless to say, the boy’s friend pushes the cop and the boy learns that the police officer is not his friend.

The police officer then chases his friend around but the friend manages to escape by climbing a building.

Meanwhile, the boy decides what he should do with his pay.  He can get something to eat or buy his girlfriend a broach without a chain.  He forgoes the food and buys the broach but hopes to buy the chain when he makes more money.  He sends the gift to his girlfriend.

Upon receiving it, his girlfriend is so happy about the gift and the boy’s mother convinces his girlfriend to go to the city and see how he is doing.

So, one day during a wild day at work, the boy’s girlfriend appears and immediately, the boy must pretend that he is the manager of the department store.

Through a good stretch of gags and hijinks featuring the boy trying to fake his girlfriend, he overhears his boss talking about how they can bring people to the store and whoever can come up with an idea will get $1,000.  The boy thinks about his friend climbing the building and suggests the idea and his boss decides to give the boy’s idea a chance.

During the big day at De Vore Department store which has been promoted on the front page of a major local newspaper, many have come to see a man climb the building.

The boy’s friend is ready to scale the building but things don’t go as planned since the policeman who was chasing the boy’s friend is now trying to pursue him again.  With everyone all around the department store building expecting a man to climb, with his friend trying to avoid the police, the boy has no choice but to scale the building on his own.

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VIDEO:

“Safety Last is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:36:1 aspect ratio) and because Harold Lloyd believed in protecting his films, he was among the first to have his films preserved.  Not only were these films under lock and key in safes, he did whatever he can to make sure they were protected from fires or any damage.  It’s important to note that nitrate film does catch fire and he did experience a fire despite trying to protect his films, but fortunately because of that, it led Harold Lloyd to preserve his films.

And so, a lot of his films look fantastic compared to other silent films of that year or era.  At 90-years-old, picture quality for “Safety Last!”, looks incredible on Blu-ray.  White and grays are well-contrast, to see this film in HD versus the original 2005 DVD release, you notice how clear the film looks.  There are no signs of major damage, dark flickering or white specks.  Because the film is in HD, closeups and background look so much clearer and well-detailed.  I was impressed!

According to the Criterion Collection, “The film is presented at a variable frame rate of approximately 22 frames per second to conform to film historian and restorer Kevin Brownlow’s presentation and the Carl Davis score that accompanies it.  The new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a DTF Scanity film scanner from a 35 mm nitrate print from Harold Lloyd’s personal collection, made from the original negative.  Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DTRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean., while Image Systems’ Phoenix was used for small dirt, jitter, flicker, and grain movement.

AUDIO/INTERTITLES:

“Safety Last!” comes with two musical soundtracks.  The Musical score by composer Carl Davis from 1989, synchronized and restored under his supervision and presented in uncompressed stereo (LPCM 2.0).  While also included is an alternate score by organist Gaylord Carter from the late 1960s, presented in uncompressed monaural (LPCM 1.0).

There are no subtitles because it is a silent film, but there are intertitles.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Safety Last! – The Criterion Collection #662” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio commentary – Featuring the original 2005 audio commentary which features film critic Leonard Maltin and director and Harold Lloyd archivist Richard Correll.
  • Introduction by Suzanne Lloyd – (17:21) Featuring an introduction by Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter and president of Harold Lloyd Entertainment
  • Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius – (1:48:00) A classic 104-minute documentary from 1989 written by David Gill and Kevin Brownlow.
  • Three newly restored Lloyd shorts: Take a Chance (1918), Young Mr. Jazz (1919), and His Royal Slyness (1920), with commentary by Richard Correll and writer John Bengtson
  • Locations and Effects – (20:37) A new documentary featuring John Bengtson and special effects expert Craig Barron about the location of where “Safety Last!” was shot.
  • Carl Davis: Scoring for Harold – (24:08) A 2013 interview with Carl Davis who discusses working with Harold Lloyd.

EXTRAS:

“Safety Last! – The Criterion Collection #662” comes with a 24-page booklet featuring the essays “High-Flying Harold” by Ed Park.

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Harold Lloyd is such a wonderful performer.  “Safety Last!” is a film that anyone can watch and just be surprised about his risky performance and just seeing a man dangling from a clock tower or a piece of wood with the city of Los Angeles right behind him.

Granted, Lloyd and crew prepared the actor with a small stage built to give the illusion that the building was being climbed, but still…he was climbing many feet up and also climbing with a missing thumb and forefinger (a few years earlier, Lloyd lost his thumb and forefinger during a photoshoot when he had to hold a bomb which was suppose to be a prop ended up being a live bomb and putting the actor in the hospital).

“Safety Last!” is everything you come to expect from a comedy!  A great story, great acting and a plenty of gags to keep the viewer entertained from beginning to end.  This is a true classic in every way and I can only hope that many people would give this wonderful film a chance and watch it with a smile and also with awe with what Harold Lloyd has accomplished.

I know many people today may ask, who is Harold Lloyd?  We heard of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton but who is Harry Lloyd?  Part of the reason why people have not heard much of Lloyd is because he had major control over his films.  Where as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton had an awesome career during the silent era, for those who study about the careers of the two men will learn that Hollywood was not to kind to them after the silent film era.  Also, Harold Lloyd’s asking price for a film for licensing was more than most companies wanted to pay for at the time.

So, there are over 300 films of Harold Lloyd that many of us have not seen and not sure if we will ever have the chance.

While Warner Bros. did release the “Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection” on DVD back in 2005, by the time a second set was rumored to be released, Warner Bros. began focusing on their direct-to-DVD library for their classics.  While those of us who were aware of the picture quality of Lloyd’s films would someday be picked up by another company like the Criterion Collection, but at the time, those were just dreams.

But the fact that the Criterion Collection has released “Safety Last!” on Blu-ray, as a fan of Harold Lloyd’s work, I am absolutely thrilled that the Criterion Collection has decided to release the film on Blu-ray.  Not only is the picture quality magnificent, you get two scores and many more special features that were not included on the original Warner Bros. DVD.

As Criterion has done for their Chaplin releases, they have done a spectacular job with “Safety Last!”.  The new “Introduction with Suzanne Lloyd” was wonderful to watch, as with the “Location and Effects” featuring Bengston and special effects expert Craig Barron was a wonderful addition but how awesome to have Carl Davis discussing his working relationship with Lloyd in 2013.

But the most notable special features that made me excited was to see “Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius”, the American Masterworks documentary by David Gill and Kevin Brownlow. With Chaplin’s “Unknown Chaplin” and Keaton’s “Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow” available to the masses, “Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius” has not been released since 1991. It’s only available on VHS and as a Harold Lloyd fan and collector of Lloyd memorabilia and videos, I have not been able to get my hands on a copy of this documentary and here it is, included with the Criterion Collection’s “Safety Last!” release.

And while Chaplin and Keaton’s shorts have been made available on DVD for quite some time, Harold Lloyd’s shorts have not.  And with the “Safety Last!” release, you get three newly restored Lloyd shorts with “Take a Chance”, “Young Mr. Jazz” and “His Royal Shyness”, plus each of these shorts has optional commentary by Rich Correll and writer John Bengston.

One can only hope that more titles will be released by the Criterion Collection as Lloyd has created a number of wonderful films in his oeuvre, but the fact that Criterion Collection really goes out and gives you so much more.  As a Harold Lloyd fan, I’m really impressed by this release and very grateful for the Criterion Collection for making this release perfect!

Overall, “Safety Last!” is a magnificent film and is a Harold Lloyd masterpiece that will continue to entertain silent comedy fans for many generations to come.  Not only are you getting one classic film but also three newly restored Harold Lloyd shorts plus the long, sought after Harold Lloyd documentary “Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius”.

This release is deserving of five stars!  Highly recommended!

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