Earlier this summer, Collider favorite Edgar Wright posted a list of his favorite films from cinematic history. It wasn’t a Top 10 or even a Top 100, but a list of 1,000 movies culled from over the last century. You can find the full list compiled by Wright and Sam DiSalle here, which comes with a word of warning from Wright himself:
This is a personal and subjective list of 1000 favourite movies from 100 years of cinema. It’s not a set text or intended as any bible of ‘greatest’ films. I decided to put this together as a fluid list for my own enjoyment, amusement and reference. I hope it’s fun for you to pore over and dive into some of the films you haven’t seen or haven’t heard of.
Due in part to some encouragement from Wright’s words and to some sort of self-flagellation of our own design, we’ve decided to revisit each of the films in this list and provide you with a weekly review. If we make it all the way to the end, and if you stick with us, we’ll stumble across the finish line together in just over 19 years from now. Like Wright, we’ll be tackling the films chronologically. Our third installment takes us away from German Expressionist horror films and to the1923 silent comedy, Safety Last!
Even if you don’t recognize the name Harold Lloyd or the movie’s title, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the film’s most famous scene parodied in a number of other movies and TV shows over the years. Lloyd’s character, also named Harold and referred to as The Boy, famously hangs from a clock face at the top of a skyscraper while cars zip by many stories below. While this one scene has become indicative of the movie overall, acting as a sort of shorthand for recognizing the romantic comedy classic, there’s so much more to enjoy in this zippy 70-minute laugher.
But first thing’s first: we need to talk about Harold Lloyd. Completing the silent film comedy trio with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Lloyd’s physical comedy, perfect timing, and range of facial expressions were hallmarks of his performances, every bit as much as his iconic glasses. Lloyd’s fantastic character turns were even more impressive when considering the peak physical shape he had to be in to pull off precision stunt work, especially since he’d lost a thumb and forefinger in an on-set accident in 1919. That’s a lot of dedication just to earn a laugh.
As for laughs, Safety Last! is full of them from beginning to end. The writing is so tight and well-paced that all of the jokes land even now, almost 100 years later. The humor ranges from the playful (we’re introduced to Harold behind bars with a noose swinging in the background, but he’s actually just waiting at a train station), to the unexpected (Harold and his roommate hide beneath a pair of coats hanging on hooks when their landlady comes calling for their overdue rent), to the breathtaking: Lloyd’s entire climbing sequence is a tense, edge-of-the-seat experience that’s broken up by regularly spaced laughs that are well and truly earned.
Before we get to the climactic climb, we follow Harold on his journey to the Big City in order to make a living and then bring his girlfriend Mildred with him to start their new life together. The problem is that Harold’s occupation as a sales clerk in a department store leaves him with very little to spend, though he spends every penny on gifts for Mildred to keep up appearances. Harold navigates pitfalls (and pratfalls) when he’s accidentally late for work, when he has a run-in with the wrong cop, and when an army of angry, demanding women rush the fabric counter at the store; he handles them all with a flourish and style that won’t fail to bring a smile to your face.
The big climb up the 12-story skyscraper, which takes up the last act of the film, comes about when Harold suggests it as a publicity stunt for the department store to pump up sales numbers, a suggestion which promises him a cool grand if he should prove successful. Of course things don’t work out as planned, but that’s the fun of it. There are layers upon layers of comedy here, some of it of the slapstick variety at times, that keeps the momentum going even as the camera goes up, and up, and up. I won’t give anything away here in the hopes that you seek the film out. Safety Last! might be best known for one scene in particular, but it is definitely worth a revisit for the rest of them.
Next week we’ll pay a visit to one of Lloyd’s contemporaries–Charlie Chaplin–in the 1925 silent adventure comedy, The Gold Rush.
Check out the other installments in our ongoing, 19-year odyssey to review all of Edgar Wright’s 1,000 Favorite Films:
- Edgar Wright’s 1,000 Favorite Films Reviewed: ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’
- Edgar Wright’s 1,000 Favorite Films Reviewed: ‘Nosferatu’