Filmsite Movie Review
Safety Last (1923)
Pages: (1) (2)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

The Lucrative Publicity Stunt:

Wanting to appear as important as Mildred believed him to be, the Boy knew that he must make money quickly. When he returned to the general manager's office to retrieve Mildred's purse, with the door cracked slighly open, he overheard a proposed NEW promotional advertising idea - $1,000 was to be offered to anyone who suggested a successful publicity ('exploitation') gimmick to attract enormous crowds of people to the store.

The Boy (remembering his roommate's talent) immediately volunteered the idea of having a "mystery man" (a 'human fly' or daredevil) climb up the exterior of the 12-story Bolton Building.

After being given the chance, he called his roommate (at the billiards hall) and hired him to perform the thrilling stunt - their plan was to split the cash ($500 each) after the stunt was accomplished. Bill was thrilled with the offer:

"Say, for five hundred dollars, I'd climb to Heaven, an' hang by my heels from the pearly gates."

Harold excitedly promised his darling Mildred that their dreams were indeed coming true: "We'll be married tomorrow....Tomorrow will be our lucky day." She was driven to her hotel (after Harold absconded a chauffeured car), and she planned to meet with him the following afternoon at 3 pm.

The Amazing, Breathtaking Climb:

The stunt was highly publicized in daily newspapers and a large crowd gathered outside the Bolton Building (the department store was on the lower levels) the next day to be spectators to the miraculous feat at 2 pm - including the disgruntled Law cop. Unfortunately, as things turned out, the Boy's Pal was forced to elude the pursuit of the cop, who had planted himself at the site of the climb. Meanwhile, the Boy's efforts to ditch the cop also failed:

  • he lured the cop to a tool house and locked him inside, but didn't notice an open door on the side
  • viewed in an early backward tracking shot, the suspicious cop (and his shadow) trailed after the Boy (whistling non-chalantly)
  • he wrote "KICK ME" (in a mirror image) with chalk on a concrete wall, and then pushed the cop into the wall, hoping that the officer would be distracted by a drunken man (Earl Mohan) kicking him in the hind end [Note: Harold accidentally backed into the wall himself, and received a swift kick to the behind from a freckled newsboy (Mickey Daniels)]

The only way to proceed with the stunt was to follow Bill's hastily-devised alternative - the Boy was coaxed and persuaded to climb up one floor until they could swap places (when Bill would don the Boy's straw hat and horned-rim glasses):

"There's only one way out. You climb to the second floor, an' duck through the window. Then, I'll put on your coat an' hat, an' go the rest of the way. They'll never know the difference. Go on, you can do it. Only o-n-e floor."

The Boy announced to the General Manager that he was the climber - the 'Mystery Man': "I'M the Mystery Man. I wanted to surprise you." After a few feigned calisthenics in preparation, to cover up for the fact that he was clumsy and not very coordinated, the Boy stepped forward to climb in Bill's place to the second floor. Simultaneously, Bill was pursued into the department store and up the various floor levels INSIDE the building by the cop. The Boy soon became dismayed when at that level and every other floor level, his buddy called out that he couldn't replace him (e.g., "You'll have to go one more floor, till I ditch the cop"). Their exchange of identities was delayed all the way to the top.

In a remarkable, daredevil set of sequences, the Boy inched his way up and climbed each floor level to the top of the twelve-story building, one hand and foot hold after the other. During the climb, he was encouraged by onlookers, and also annoyingly cautioned and advised: (e.g. Why dontcha take that net off? It's in your way," "Young man, don't you know you might fall and get hurt," and "Great! You got the right idea, kid. That's the best one you've pulled yet").

He encountered absurdly new difficulties at every new floor - including the forces of gravity:

  • pesky, flapping pigeons who feasted on nuts or popcorn that had fallen on him from above
  • a volleyball net that fell from a sporting goods department and became enveloped around him
  • painters who thrust a protruding 2 x 4 wooden beam (a paint scaffolding trestle) at him
  • a swinging window
  • an enormous clock
  • a dangling rope, without a counter-weight
  • a vicious dog
  • a flagpole
  • a mouse that climbed up his pants leg
  • a photographic subject in a studio who was posing with a gun pointed at him at the exact moment the photographer's flash exploded
  • a revolving anemometer (wind gauge) that struck him a dizzying blow
  • a second rope (from a bannerless flagpole) that became entangled around his ankle - it swung him pendulum-like and upside-down from the top of the building

The most-remembered bedeviling obstacle was the clock. For thrilling moments, he found himself hanging from the minute-hand of the large clock, dangling dangerously above the street as the clock-face pulled off the wall - while still wearing his glasses (but he lost his straw hat). It was one of the most famous cinematic images of all time.

He swung upwards on the rope to the top of the building, landed in the relieved Girl's arms on the roof, and received a great big kiss. Our hero had proven his worth against all odds, become a success as a social and financial 'climber' (literally), earned the $1,000 prize money, and won the Girl.

On a far-away roof further below, Harold watched as Bill was still being chased by the cop, and yelling up to Harold: (in tiny intertitle print)

"I'll be right back - Soon as I ditch the cop."

On the sidewalk far below, the drunken man was hopelessly entangled in the discarded volleyball net.

After another kiss, the two went off arm in arm. Unbeknownst to the Boy, he unintentionally tromped through fresh tar on the roof of the building, leaving - in four steps - his shoes and socks behind.

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