Walter Dunlop remembers the work of silent star Harold Lloyd as one of his classics, Safety Last!, comes to Edinburgh’s Filmhouse this month.
“A Pair of Glasses and a Smile”. If you’re of a certain age that line will take you back to balmy summer holidays spent watching compilations of Harold Lloyd’s finest moments. The ultimate Everyman, Harold spent the 1920s seemingly careening from one life-threatening danger to another, all in the name of entertainment. And he did it well.
Great as those compilations are, the flow of the movies gets diluted somewhat. The chase scenes and stunts are spectacular, sure. But it’s the bits in between that make Harold one of the greats.
The little breathing spaces, the perfectly judged one-liners, and the genuine chemistry between the guy and the gal that leaps out at you from every one of his golden period movies. In the 1920s, Lloyd made twelve features, every one of which is superb. That’s on a par with Buster Keaton’s hot streak, and – unbelievably – is nine more than Chaplin managed in the equivalent time. So far as cinema comedy is concerned, I don’t think there’s any finer period in terms of cast-iron classics.
There’s no substitute for viewing a full Lloyd production and, in April, Edinburgh cinemagoers will get their chance as the Filmhouse screens one of the finest (and probably the best remembered of the lot). Screening from the 9 to 13 of April, Safety Last! – yes, the one with the clock – is a lovely, warm, heartfelt piece of work.
At the heart of it is a simple love story – boy loves girl, boy buys girl presents, boy can’t afford presents, boy has to climb sheer building in order to pay for presents. You’ve probably been there yourself. I know I have. But there’s a spark between our two leads that makes the whole thing zing.
Mildred Davis and Harold Lloyd generate some remarkable electricity in their scenes. Hardly surprising because they ended up marrying. Lloyd’s innocent-in-the-city routine has never been better utilised than it is here. Perhaps lacking the joie de vivre that he displays in Girl Shy this is nonetheless classic Lloyd.
The climbing-the-building set piece is superb, sure. But there’s a lot more to it than that. I won’t spoil it for you, but if you’ve never fallen under the spell of 1920s comedy giants, this is an excellent place to start. You’ll leave the cinema feeling much better than when you went in. And that’s a guarantee.
A pair of glasses and a smile. Sometimes – just sometimes – that’s more than enough.
Safety Last will be showing at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse from Friday 9 until Tuesday 13 April, times vary.