Matchup of the Day: Raiders of the Lost Ark vs. Safety Last!
It’s Harold Lloyd’s birthday today, so let’s put Safety Last! up against another iconic tale of derring-do – Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is the seminal film of my movie watching career. My love of cinema can be traced back to the first time I witnessed Indiana Jones risk life and limb to “acquire” the Chachapoyan Fertility Idol from that booby-trapped cave. Up to that point I had never seen anything so wondrously thrilling in a motion picture. It changed me as a human being. Not only has that opening become one of my most beloved, but one of the most iconic in the history of the medium. Recently, I watched Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last!, which has one of the most iconic ending sequences ever filmed. If Raiders has the rumbling boulder hot on the heels of Indiana Jones, Last! has Lloyd dangling for dear life from the clock at a perilous height. Movie-goers back then were likely just as inspired by Lloyd’s building-scaling adventure as I was by seeing Jones outrun the pursuing rock.
Lloyd’s reason for placing himself in danger in Last! is to impress his lady love, who believes he is the manager of a department store. In truth, he’s only a salesclerk, maintaining the deception while barely living from paycheck to paycheck. His big break comes when he hears the real manager offer $1,000 (about $14,000 adjusted for inflation) to anyone who can bring in more customers. Lloyd’s friend, a construction worker, is skilled at climbing buildings. He offers him half the reward if he’ll scale the twelve story department store as a publicity stunt. His friend, however, is wanted by an irate police officer. Lloyd ends having to climb the building himself as his friend is chased from floor to floor by the lawman. Like Jones in the cave, he encounters a number of obstacles along the way, from pigeons to a fishing net dropped out a window, before reaching the clock.
Lloyd wasn’t actually hanging twelve stories off the ground when shooting the scene. The set was built twenty feet above a mattress. He was working with a handicap, though – he only had three fingers on his right hand due to a previous stunt mishap. While I wasn’t as blown away by the clock scene as I was with the boulder from Raiders, it did ignite my “heghtophobia” (as it was called in a 1923 Photoplay review of Last!) in a gleeful fashion. Last! is the first Harold Lloyd movie I’ve sat through, so it is kind of seminal in its own right. It serves as incentive to check out more of his work.