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When a store clerk organizes a contest to climb the outside of a tall building, circumstances force him to make the perilous climb himself.
For more about Safety Last! and the Safety Last! Blu-ray release, see Safety Last! Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on June 10, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Starring: Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Bill Strother, Noah Young, Westcott Clarke
Directors: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor
» See full cast & crew
Safety Last! Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, June 10, 2013
Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor's "Safety Last!" (1923) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include an introduction to the film by Suzanne Lloyd; film critic Leonard Maltin and Harold Lloyd's archivist, director Richard Correll; three early short films; Kevin Brownlow and David Gill's documentary "Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius"; new video interview with composer and conductor Carl Davis; and more. The release also arrives with a 22-page illustrated booklet featuring Ed Park's essay "High-Flying Harold". With English intertitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
The great Harold Lloyd plays an ambitious young man who heads to the big city hoping to get a good job and make enough to finally marry his sweetheart (Mildred Davis, who actually agreed to marry Lloyd during the shooting of Safety Last!). He quickly gets a job in a large department store where an obnoxious floor manager (Westcott Clarke) constantly abuses him.
The money Harold (the name of the young man in the film is also Harold) makes, however, isn't even enough to pay the rent for the tiny apartment he shares with his roommate (Bill Strother), an incredibly athletic guy who can climb buildings like a giant spider. Nevertheless, Harold regularly sends letters to his girl in which he enthusiastically describes his new career and assures her that it is only a matter of time before their dreams will come true.
Impressed by Harold's letters, the poor girl eventually decides to visit the department store where he works. When she appears, Harold poses as the general manager of the store and successfully gives the floor manager a taste of his own medicine. He even manages to show the naive girl "his office".
Before the girl can figure out what is really happening, Harold decides to earn the $1000 the real general manager is offering to anyone that can come up with a plan that would improve traffic to the store. He promptly hires his roommate to climb the twelve-story store in the middle of the day, but things go terribly wrong and he is forced to replace him.
This film is the real deal. When Lloyd starts climbing the building, you will feel that all too familiar vertigo numbness in your feet. And then you will feel the presence of that very uncomfortable lump in your stomach. The camerawork is really that incredible, making every single scene look astonishingly real.
Many theaters that showed Safety Last! in the early 1920s apparently had nurses waiting in their lobbies because some people were getting seriously sick while watching Lloyd's character climbing the twelve-story store. It is not difficult to figure out why – the special effects in the film have everything to do with special skills and stunts, real people, and real locations.
The various gags throughout the film are also every bit as impressive as those seen in the films of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. They are fast, superbly timed (see the train sequence in the very beginning of the film) and enormously effective (see the sequence where the landlord enters the room looking for Lloyd and his roommate). What separates Lloyd from Chaplin and Keaton is the elegant casualness of everything he does – he looks fragile, genuinely naive and unprepared for the tricky tests he typically faces.
Safety Last! is also a fascinating time capsule. Many of the film's best sequences were shot in downtown Los Angeles, with real people and real traffic, and offer a glimpse at a forgotten metropolis that is rarely seen in other films from the same era.
Also included on this Blu-ray release are three, recently restored short films with Lloyd's "Glasses character" from Safety Last!. In Take a Chance (1918), Lloyd meets a poor but beautiful girl (Bebe Daniels) and falls in love with her. But his life takes an unexpected turn when he is mistaken for an escaped convict. In Young Mr. Jazz (1919), Lloyd is chased by his girl's (Daniels) angry father. The three end up in a dance club run by a gang of crooks who teach them an important lesson. In His Royal Slyness (1920), Lloyd is a book salesman who looks exactly like the Prince of Rochquefort from the little Kingdom of Thermosa who is in America to get educated. When the Prince is sent a telegram an urged to go back home, the two decide to trade places and the book salesman heads to the kingdom. Soon after, the beautiful Princess Florelle (Mildred Davis) decides to marry him, but the real Prince returns home.
Safety Last! Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080i transfer, Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor's Safety Last! arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray release:
"The film is also 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. This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a DTF Scanity film scanner from a 35mm 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 DRS and Pixel Farm's PFClean, while Image Systems' Phoenix was used for small dirt, jitter, flicker, and grain management.
Transfer supervisor: Maria Palazzola.
Colorist: Sheri Eisenberg/Colorworks, Culver City, CA."
Please note that the screencaptures included with this review appear in the following order:
1. Screencaptures #1-19 are from Safety Last!
2. Screencaptures #21- 24 are from Take a Chance.
3. Screencaptures #25-28 are from Young Mr. Jazz.
4. Screencaptures #29-32 are from His Royal Slyness.
This 90-year old film looks simply terrific on Blu-ray. In fact, quite often the image depth is so impressive that one could easily argue that Safety Last! actually looks far better and healthier than a great number of '80s and '90s films that have already transitioned to Blu-ray. The panoramic shots from the second half, in particular, look quite extraordinary (see screencaptures #3, 5, and 18). On the other hand, during close-ups even very small objects are exceptionally easy to see. Furthermore, contrast and clarity remain stable. Color saturation is also very good - the blacks and grays never collapse while the whites are well balanced with them. No attempts have been made to digitally sharpen up the film. Problematic degraining corrections have not been performed either. Unsurprisingly, the film has a wonderful, very consistent organic look. Finally, the restorers have carefully removed many damage marks and debris with digital tools without affecting the integrity of the image. Some extremely small vertical lines remain (see screencapture #7), but they never become even remotely distracting during normal playback. Indeed, this is a very strong presentation of Safety Last!, which I am convinced will pleasantly surprise many of Harold Lloyd's fans.
Unlike Safety Last!, the three shorts - Take a Chance, Young Mr. Jazz, and His Royal Slyness - all come with 1080p transfers. All three films have been digitally restored. Once again, detail and image depth are very good, but some minor contrast fluctuations are also present. It is also clear that the elements used to produce the new high-definition transfers were not in terrific shape (see Young Mr. Jazz) as some wear around the edges, fading and frame skips have been inherited. However, it is very easy to see that the restorers have optimized the presentation as best as possible. Rather large portions of Take a Chance and His Royal Slyness, in particular, look quite wonderful (see screencapture #29).
(Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray release. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Safety Last! Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Safety Last! can be viewed with two different scores. The first is Carl Davis' 1989 orchestral score (LPCM 2.0). The second is an alternate, improvised score by organist Gaylord Carter from 1969 (LPCM 1.0). The three short films included on this release arrive with Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks. Standard intertitles are included for each film.
Carl Davis' score sounds great - there is an excellent range of nuanced dynamics and depth and clarity are terrific. The sound is also consistently crisp. Gaylord Carter's score is a bit more subdued, lacking the oomph and clarity of Carl Davis' score. The overall range of nuanced dynamics is also quite limited, but this should not be surprising considering the fact that it is an improvised score recorded under completely different conditions.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks have plenty of depth. Also, clarity and dynamic intensity are surprisingly good.
Safety Last! Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Safety Last! Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
No other silent film has managed to make me feel this uncomfortable - the stunts and visual effects in Safety Last! are simply extraordinary. Now that the film has been beautifully restored, some of the legendary sequences look even more impressive. Kudos to Criterion for producing this tremendous release, and let's hope that more of Harold Lloyd's films will soon be made available on Blu-ray. Buy with confidence, folks. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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