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CRITERION

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor
Cast:
Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Bill Strother, Noah Young, Westcott Clarke
Writing Credits:
Hal Roach (story), Sam Taylor (story), Tim Whelan (story), H.M. Walker (titles)

Synopsis:
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.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio:
English PCM Stereo (1989 Score)
English PCM Monaural (1960s Score)
Subtitles:
None
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 73 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 6/18/2013

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Film Critic Leonard Maltin and Harold Lloyd Archivist Richard Correll
• Introduction by Suzanne Lloyd
• “Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius” Documentary
• Three Harold Lloyd Shorts
• “Locations and Effects” Documentary
• Interview with Composer Carl Davis
• Booklet


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EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Safety Last!: Criterion Collection (1923)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 14, 2013)

One of the most famous silent comedies, 1923’s Safety Last! introduces us to a country boy Harold (Harold Lloyd) who decides to head to the big city. Before he goes, he promises to send for his girlfriend Mildred (Mildred Davis) and marry her once he attains success.

In the city, Harold rooms with his old pal “Limpy Bill” (Bill Strother) but both struggle to make ends meet. Harold works in a low-paying job at the De Vore Department Store but needs more money. He gets his chance when the store offers a $1000 bonus to anyone who can lure a large crowd and Harold invents a wild “human fly” stunt.

That synopsis might lead you to believe Last comes with a true plot, but it doesn’t. Instead, the narrative acts as a general framework to set up a series of semi-connected skits. Sure, these all relate to Harold’s adventures, and most deal with his work at the store or his attempts to please Mildred, but there’s no real story to be told here and no character development. Though the elements do kinda sorta come together toward the end, it’s mostly an excuse for a bunch of gags.

I don’t regard this as a negative, at least not for the silent comedy genre. If Last attempted a more character-driven effort, then its lack of development would be a negative, but as a basic piece of comedic entertainment, the absence of plot and development don’t matter a whole lot. If the comedy satisfies, then the rest becomes fairly irrelevant.

So does Last amuse? Yeah, to a moderate degree, at least. Inevitably, Lloyd gets compared to his era’s other big comedy stars, Buster Keaton and (especially) Charlie Chaplin. I suspect Lloyd comes up third in that competition, but that doesn’t mean he lacks skill or charm.

Unlike the more graceful Chaplin, Lloyd seems to favor comedy that veers into “stunt” territory. After all, the man’s most famous gag –seen in this film – shows him as hangs off a clock attached to the side of a tall building. I’m not even sure this is especially funny; I think it evokes nervous laughter more than anything else, as the character’s perilous predicament creates a sense of anxiety in the viewer.

The climactic climb up the building fills the third act of Last, and nothing else in the flick seems quite as daring. However, I think the prior 50 minutes or so provide more amusement. While the climax impresses in terms of stunt work, I just don’t find it to offer many laughs.

Not that I can claim the rest of the flick packs in the chortles. I can see Lloyd’s talent – especially in terms of physical prowess – but I don’t think much of the work actually amuses. While I find the occasional clever/amusing bit, much of it falls flat for me in a way Chaplin and Keaton don’t.

None of this makes Last a bad film, as it delivers a breezy enough little silent comedy. Despite my criticisms, I think it offers acceptable entertainment value, but I simply don’t feel it measures up with the best of the genre.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B+

Safety Last! appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Though it occasionally showed some flaws, this was usually a terrific transfer for a 90-year-old movie.

As one might expect, print flaws became the most obvious issue. While not heavy, I saw examples of thin vertical lines and some marks. The image could flicker a bit, and a few scenes suffered from batches of small scratches that made it look like rain filled the picture.

None of those concerns became dominant, though, and the movie usually was quite clean for its age. Blacks looked deep and rich, while shadows showed nice clarity and smoothness. Overall contrast was consistently satisfying.

In terms of sharpness, the image was almost always concise. A few shots showed mild softness, but those were minimal. Overall definition seemed exceptional. I noticed virtually no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement was absent. The source defects almost knocked down my grade to a “B”, but so much of the flick looked great and transcended its age that I felt it merited a “B+”.

In terms of audio, the film came with an LPCM stereo score recorded in 1989. It presented a perfectly serviceable accompaniment to the film. Stereo imaging was fine; at times the music seemed a little too centered, but it usually spread across the front in a pleasing manner. The music came across as full and vivid as well. The score worked fine for the movie and sounded good.

With this Criterion Blu-ray, we get a mix of extras that launch with an audio commentary from film critic Leonard Maltin and Harold Lloyd archivist Richard Correll. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific look at cast and crew, aspects of Lloyd’s life and career, sets and locations, story/character subjects, production elements, stunts and effects, and a few other topics.

While not without occasional nuggets, the commentary tends to lack much informational value. Maltin and Correll mostly narrate the film’s story and talk about how much they enjoy it; in particular, Correll loves to tell us all the gags that make audiences explode with laughter. Maltin and Correll tell us enough useful material to keep us with the track, but it’s a frustrating ride.

An Introduction from Harold’s granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd runs 17 minutes, 21 seconds. That’s unusually long for an intro, as Suzanne discusses her life with Harold as well as aspects of Safety Last! and his career. Suzanne provides a nice reflection on her famous grandfather.

Next comes a two-part 1989 documentary entitled Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius. It goes for one hour, 48 minutes and provides info from Correll, Suzanne Lloyd, film producers Hal Roach and David Chasman, actors Phyllis Welch, Jane Novak, Lionel Stander, Frances Ramsden, Constance Cummings, Roddy McDowall, Alf Goulding, Jr., William Bakewell, Peggy Cartwright, Ernest Morrison and Jack Lemmon, brother-in-law Jack Davis, friends John Meredith, Frances Metzger and Alva Lyons, granddaughter Gloria Lloyd Roberts, director Andrew L. Stone, writer Walter Kerr, effects artist Roy Seawright, stunt double Harvey Parry, film editor Bernard Burton, assistant script girl Jean Nugent, theater organist Gaylord Carter, and attorney Tom Shepard. We also find some archival comments from Harold Lloyd as well.

“Genius” discusses Lloyd’s life and career, with an emphasis on his film work. The program follows a logical progression and explores its subject matter in a concise way. We get a lot of clips from Lloyd’s movies and learn plenty about him along the way.

The disc delivers three Harold Lloyd Shorts. We get 1918’s Take a Chance (10:21), 1919’s Young Mr. Jazz (9:50), and 1920’s His Royal Slyness (21:46). Of these, only Slyness - a play on Prince and the Pauper - really attempts any form of narrative. The others are short excuses for slapstick gags.

That makes it a surprise that the two briefer films are the most entertaining. Part of the reason for this stems from the Harold character, as he’s more interesting in Chance and Jazz; he’s more of a wise-ass troublemaker, while Slyness makes him a milquetoast boy next door. Whatever I may think of them, I’m sure Lloyd fans will feel happy to see these shorts.

We can view the shorts with or without commentaries from Correll and film writer John Bengtson. Though these chats substitute Bengtson for Maltin, they function the same as the main movie’s discussion. We get a lot of general thoughts about story and Lloyd’s greatness without much concrete information. Again, you’ll learn a little but not as much as you should.

A new featurette called Locations and Effects fills 20 minutes, 37 seconds. We find notes from Bengtson and visual effects expert Craig Barron as they discuss the work done to create Last’s famous “building climbing” scene as well as some other effects from Lloyd’s films. We get a good overview of the subject along with many cool elements that neatly illustrate these techniques.

Finally, we locate a new Interview with Composer Carl Davis. It runs 24 minutes, eight seconds and gives us Davis’s notes about Lloyd’s films and the scores he wrote for them. We get a nice perspective on Davis’s choices.

Like all Criterion packages, Last features a Booklet. This 24-page piece includes an essay from film writer Ed Park and some photos. It’s a good addition to the set.

Despite its reputation, I don’t think Safety Last! compares favorably with other classic silent comedies. While it boasts some humor and charms, I just don’t think it delivers the goods to the same degree as its competitors. The Blu-ray provides very nice picture and supplements along with appropriate audio. This Criterion release brings the film to Blu-ray in an eminently satisfying manner.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5 Stars Number of Votes: 6
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main