Monday, September 16, 2013

Criteritron #8

The Criteritron is an occasional series in which I take a look at The Criterion Collection's vast offerings on HuluPlus and recommend a title to watch.

The Criteritron #8: Safety Last!
US, 1923
Directed by Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor

What Is It?: A classic silent film comedy starring the under-appreciated Harold Lloyd. As Criterion's summary says, "Chaplin is the sweet innocent, Keaton the stoic outsider, but Lloyd—the modern guy striving for success—is us." Safety Last! showcases this through the story of a man (Lloyd) who goes to the city in search of a job that will let him provide for his girlfriend (Mildred Davis) and their prospective family. But he finds his skills less than in demand, and takes a position as a lowly sales clerk in a department store, where his ineptitude, laziness, and clumsiness lead his stickler boss Mr. Stubbs (Westcott Clarke) to give him a hard time. Lloyd covers for his low earnings by pretending to be higher up than he is, which leads to trouble when his girlfriend inevitably shows up. This plot proves fertile ground for the sort of physical comedy, comedic misunderstandings, and daredevil stunts that are the hallmark of silent comedies, with the added humor that comes from Lloyd's characteristic, at-all-costs striving to get ahead.

Why Watch It?: Because you've seen at least ONE image from this film before, and you ought to see it in its original, hilarious context. During one stunning sequence, a series of schemes and mistaken identities leads Lloyd to climb the skyscraper where his department store is located, at one point leaving him hanging from a clock several stories above the street. This image has been copied, imitated, referenced, paid homage, and depicted in countless films since Lloyd's day, which is incredible considering how little-known he is compared to his contemporaries Chaplin and Keaton. Lloyd's nebbishy, upwardly-mobile middle class character was a departure from the Little Tramp and Old Stoneface, and makes him an eminently relatable lead. But, really, the main reason to watch Safety Last! is that it remains simply hilarious, even 90 years after its debut. At 73 minutes, the film will hardly waste your evening, and you'll get more laughs per minute than basically any comedy Hollywood puts out these days.

Safety Last! is available for purchase on DVD or Blu-ray, though Netflix currently makes neither version available to rent. You can still stream Safety Last! on HuluPlus via any compatible device, or through the embedded player below the cut. .

No comments:

Post a Comment