In 1923, one of Hollywood’s most famous landmarks was created. The HOLLYWOOD sign, which originally said HOLLYWOODLAND, was built for only $21,000 over the Hollywood Hills. The famous sign was originally created to help raise home sales in Beachwood Canyon.
Also created in 1923 was one of the world’s largest film studios. Four brothers, who had all had their own various production businesses decided to merge. Together these four created Warner Brothers Pictures. Their first film released the same year, The Gold Diggers, has since been lost.
Two other brothers who met notoriety in 1923 were Dave and Max Fleischer. Together, they created the first full-length animated film. The film, The Einstein Theory of Relativity, was surprisingly also a documentary.
In New York, a new way of meshing film and sound was being created. Lee de Forest created a way of recording sound on part of film reels. He showcased this technology at the Rivoli Theatre, where he showed musical shorts. This new way of creating films would become the mainstream way of showing films for decades to come.
The best film of 1923 as voted by the users of Flickchart is Safety Last!. Safety Last! remains one of the most iconic silent comedies, most notably for the harrowing scene of Harold Lloyd dangling from a clock several stories from the busy street below. This combination of surprise and humor is what makes the film so great.
In Safety Last!, Lloyd, who is credited only as “The Boy”, moves to the big city to make his way up the corporate ladder to earn enough money for him and Mildred Davis, known as “The Girl”, to start their life together. Unfortunately, things don’t go as smoothly as The Boy would like them to as he remains at the bottom of the ladder, regardless of the high status he tells The Girl he has reached. When The Girl makes a surprise visit to the city, The Boy does everything he can to make him seem like a big deal with his company. When an opportunity comes up for him to make $1,000 dollars, he brings up the idea to his boss of a publicity stunt where his roommate climbs the dozen or so stories to the top of the shops building. The boss agrees to the idea, but when his roommate is nowhere to be found, The Boy has to take matters into his own hands.
While most consider the king of silent comedy to be either Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, Lloyd should also be thrown into this conversation. Lloyd plays his characters as more laid back then Chaplin or Keaton, yet his moves are still just as precise and thought out. Lloyd risks life and limb in Safety Last! for the sake of a joke. While Lloyd didn’t perform all of his own stunts, many of the building climbing antics were done by Lloyd himself, a terrifying accomplishment.
Lloyd, along with directors Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, utilize misdirection and heighten the fear so that when the jokes come, they are also an exclamation of relief. What Lloyd does here is nothing short of spectacular, making his audience laugh while dangling so far above the ground it would almost surely kill him. Lloyd’s constant use of great comedy set pieces that are not only hilarious, but also propel the story forward, shows why Lloyd is one of the great silent comedies and why Safety Last! is one of the era’s greatest comedies.
For those interested in more films from 1923, check out these films:
Speaking of silent comedy greats, Keaton released his film Our Hospitality, while Chaplin released The Pilgrim and A Woman of Paris, which is a notable Chaplin release because it is a serious drama written and directed by Chaplin, however he himself does not star.
Probably the most famous live action version of the classic story, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (available on Netflix Instant) was released in 1923, starring the infamous Lon Chaney as Quasimodo. Chaney made a name for himself by consistently playing horrific characters and his ability to efficiently disguise himself in different parts.
The highest grossing film of 1923 was The Covered Wagon, which was an expensive film to make at the time, having cost $800,000 to make. However the film made 4 million dollars back. This led studios to make more Westerns, a trend that continued for decades.
Legendary director Cecil B. DeMille made his first version of The Ten Commandments, which required DeMille to create the largest set ever made at the time. In 1956, DeMille retold the story, which became the Easter classic starring Charlton Heston.