Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Safety Last (1923)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Safety Last (1923)

In this well-known silent romantic "thrill comedy" from co-directors Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor - it was most notable for its hair-raising clock-dangling finale - a reckless, 'safety last,' humorous yet daredevil stunt on the side of a twelve-story skyscraper above busy city streets:

  • in the film's opening in the year 1922, the naive Boy (Harold Lloyd) appeared behind vertical bars and a 'noose' - presumably imprisoning jail bars and a hanging rope at an execution, but he was actually at a train station; the bars were the train station's gate barrier, and the noose was a track side pickup hoop used by train crews to receive orders without stopping
  • the Boy was preparing to travel on a train to the big city from the rural town of Great Bend, and promising to send for his fiancee - the Girl (Mildred Davis, Lloyd's future real-life wife - this was the last time he worked with her as his leading lady in a film) after he had "'made good" with fame and fortune; he bid goodbye to his mother and to the Girl: "Mother, Mildred has promised to come to the city, and marry me - Just as soon as I've made good"
  • in the city of Los Angeles, the Boy shared a rented room with his Pal - "Limpy" Bill (Bill Strother, with a real "human spider" act), a very agile construction worker; and both were destitute; he showed off an expensive gift that he couldn't afford for Mildred, a lavalliere (without a chain), and then confessed that he had pawned off their phonograph player, and was unable to afford their overdue rent ($14 dollars for two weeks); he admitted he had falsely convinced Mildred that he was becoming successful and prosperous - with gifts and positive letters about his many business deals
  • the bookish-looking Boy eventually found work as a low-paid, menial salesman in the De Vore Department Store at the ladies' fabric cloth counter; early one morning before his 8 o'clock shift, he was accidentally transported to a distant side of the city in a towel truck, and had to get back in 10 minutes; he maneuvered onto an overloaded streetcar, two strangers' moving cars, and an ambulance in order to return to work before being fired; at the store, the very tardy Boy posed as a mannequin, was transported into the store, and successfully avoided being scrutinized and detected by the store's pompous floorwalker, Mr. Stubbs (Westcott Clarke)
Posing as a Mannequin
Floorwalker Mr. Stubbs
At the Fabric Counter
  • Harold bragged to his roommate Bill about his 'pull' and insider status with the police: ("I can do anything - and get away with it"); unfortunately, the prank or practical joke against a cop - a representative of the Law (Noah Young) failed miserably, and to escape, Bill was forced to scale the side of a building to elude the cop; he was threatened: "YOU'LL DO TIME FOR THIS! THE FIRST TIME I LAY EYES ON YOU AGAIN, I'LL PINCH YOU!"
  • after Harold sent home another gift - a chain for the lavalliere, the Girl's mother persuaded her to venture to the city to be with him; when the Girl made a surprise visit to the store during a frenzied fabric sale, he kept up the charade and pretense (in many instances) that he was the store's general manager to impress her
  • after overhearing from the store's general manager that $1,000 was to be offered to anyone who devised a successful new publicity ('exploitation') gimmick to attract enormous crowds of people to the store, the Boy (remembering his roommate's talent) volunteered the idea of having a 'mystery man' ('human fly') climb the 12-story Bolton building; he hired his roommate to perform the thrilling stunt; their plan was to split the cash ($500 each) after the stunt was accomplished
  • the stunt was highly publicized in newspapers and a large crowd gathered the next day to be spectators at 2 pm, including the Law cop; unfortunately, as things turned out, the Boy's Pal had to elude the pursuit of the cop, and the Boy's efforts to ditch the cop also failed; viewed in an early backward tracking shot, the Boy was pursued by the suspicious cop; ultimately, the Boy was forced to climb to the second floor level in his place; he was dismayed when at that level and every other level, his buddy (who was being chased up the levels INSIDE the building) couldn't replace him; on each new floor, the Boy was coaxed to go one floor higher (e.g., "You'll have to go one more floor, till I ditch the cop")
  • the film's most celebrated sequence - the mild-mannered and timid Boy's suspenseful, slapstick-filled daredevil, perilous climb up the side of the big-city building, inching his way up to the top one hand and foot hold after the other
  • at every floor, the Boy was beset by an absurdly incredible array of problems (pesky, flapping pigeons who feasted on nuts that had fallen on him from above, a volleyball net that became enveloped around him, painters who thrust a protruding 2 x 4 wooden paint platform/trestle at him, a swinging window, an enormous clock (see below), a rope, a vicious dog, a flagpole, a mouse that climbed up his pants leg, a photographic subject who was posing with a gun pointed at him at the exact moment the flash exploded, a revolving anemometer (wind gauge) that struck him a dizzying blow, and a second rope entangled around his ankle which swung him pendulum-like and upside-down from the top of the building)
  • 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")
Various Obstacles During the Climb
Volleyball Net
Wooden Painting Trestle
Swinging Window
Dog and Flagpole
Mouse in Pants-Leg
Gun Pointed At Him
  • the most-remembered obstacle was the clock - for thrilling moments, he was seen hanging from the minute-hand of the huge clock, dangling dangerously high above the busy street as the clock-face pulled off the wall - while still wearing his glasses (but he lost his hat)
Hanging From the Clock
  • he finally swung upwards on the rope to the top of the building, landed in the relieved Mildred's arms on the roof, and received a great big kiss before they went off arm in arm - our hero had proven his worth, become a success, earned the $1,000 prize money, and won the Girl
  • 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

Bars and "Noose" - An Execution?

Goodbyes at Train Station with Mildred and His Mother

The Boy's Roommate 'Limpy Bill'

Expensive Gift for Mildred - Lavalier

Overcrowded Streetcar

Failed Prank Against a Cop (The Law) - Revealing Bill's 'Human Fly' Talent

Publicity For Skyscraper-Climbing Stunt

The Boy Trailed by the Suspicious Cop - Backward Tracking Shot

At the Second Level - The Swap of Identities Was Delayed

Swinging Like a Pendulum From Rope

Landing in Mildred's Arms For a Kiss - At Top of Building

On the Rooftop - Tromping Through Fresh Tar and Losing His Shoes


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