Time is a cruel mistress, and when looking back at the very early days of motion picture comedies, you could say there’s been somewhat of a shift in what the public expect from this genre of film. Safety Last was, and still is, an impressive feat of innovation for the sake of a few laughs. It’s always strenuously difficult to review something that is nearing a centenary of age, especially comedy.
Safety Last isn’t the timeless comedy classic many would assert it as. By all means is it an important and historically relevant document featuring the apparently great Harold Lloyd, but it loses something when looked at in a contemporary manner. That may be hypocritical, or even unfair, but the importance of its history shouldn’t exceed its merits as a film. As a comedy, it’s fairly weak; but it’s greater when it blends the thrilling escapades of the talented Harold Lloyd into the mix.
I’ll admit, I was blown away by the stunt work on display. Some scenes really captivated me, none other than the iconic clock scene and all the other scenes surrounding this climbing of a sixteen-story building. But they’re not really all that comedic, bar one or two extras being thrown in to question the sanity of Lloyd’s character, The Boy. As he climbs floor after floor, it becomes clearer and clearer how dangerous his escapades become, an unusual anxiety sets in and rather than comedic, it becomes thrilling.
Blending the genre this well is in itself an impressive feat, and Lloyd’s work throughout Safety Last does just that. Purely as a comedy, there are a lot of jokes that fall flat, jokes that would flail timidly in the modern context too. Lloyd’s comedy comes from a visually pleasing place though, and a handful of scenes will elicit a chuckle or two. The supporting cast do a great job of propping the punchlines up and making Lloyd look as good as he can.
Safety Last has a couple of funny moments to it, but it’ll be remembered more for how terrifying its final twenty minutes are than anything else. Blending aspects of comedy with pieces of the thriller genre is no small feat but Lloyd pulls it off in impressive fashion. It’s pretty good for a silent film, where the plot is basic, the comedy is restrained and the thrills are refined.