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Don’t look down: 100 years of Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last!

Harold Lloyd’s stunts in Safety Last! make it one of the most heart-in-mouth films of all time. On its 100th birthday, his granddaughter remembers his mastery, inspiration – and the real-life love at the film’s heart It is one of the most famous images in film history: a bespectacled man dangles from the hands of a broken clock, 12 storeys above the Los Angeles traffic. The climax of Harold Lloyd’s slapstick suspense masterpiece Safety Last!, which is about to celebrate its centenary, is also a defining image of the city, much like the construction workers perched on a steel beam in the 1932 news photograph Lunch Atop a Skyscraper is for New York. They share a sense of the giddy dangers of 20th-century urbanism, and the precarity of the working man. Harold, the hero of Safety Last!, is just such an ordinary joe: a department store sales clerk struggling to keep his job, while boasting of a big promotion in letters home to his sweetheart, Mildred. When he spends his entire pay cheque on a gift for Mildred, Harold forlornly imagines his lunch disappearing dish by dish. Mildred surprises him by coming to visit, which is when he has the brainwave of “climbing” to the very top of the building as a romantic stunt – emphasis on the stunt as he plans to use his agile friend “Limpy Bill” as a double. In the film’s perfect final 20 minutes, Harold makes the ascent alone, beset by perils including a flock of birds, a barking dog, a broken flagpole and even a gunshot. It amounts to some of the most nerve-racking funny business ever put on screen. Variety announced: “It will make all of the nation laugh.” Continue reading...

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