How Harold Lloyd Filmed Safety Last!

The image of Harold Lloyd clinging desperately from the hands of a skyscraper clock during Safety Last! (1923) is one of the great icons of film history.  The recent multiple Oscar-winning movie Hugo (2011) pays tribute to Safety Last!; first by including a clip of Harold’s film within the movie, and again when the young hero Hugo Cabret finds himself hanging from the hands of a clock at the train station where he lives.  Even the poster artwork for Hugo mirrors Lloyd’s earlier film.

On the roof of 908 S. Broadway from Safety Last! and the YouTube video clip

Closing scene on the roof of the “clock” building 908 S. Broadway and the Criterion Collection video clip.

With maps, aerial views, and vintage photographs, my book Silent Visions devotes a full chapter to the burgeoning Los Angeles skyline appearing in Safety Last! and Lloyd’s other stunt-climbing comedies filmed within the downtown Historic Core.  The following slides provide a brief overview, and may be downloaded further below as a 14 MB PowerPoint presentation.

[Note: on the ground, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd filmed scenes from their masterpieces The Kid (1921), Cops (1922) and Safety Last! at the same Hollywood alley you can still visit today.]

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Here is the link to download the PowerPoint.  Most of the slides are animated, so wait a moment each time before clicking the “next” button.

Hugo (C) 2011 Paramount Pictures

How Harold Lloyd Filmed Safety Last by John Bengtson

You will need a PowerPoint viewer to watch the show, and can download a PowerPoint viewer at this site.

I am also posting here, once again, a self-guided walking tour of the downtown Los Angeles locations Harold Lloyd used in Safety Last!, along with locations from Never Weaken and Feet First.

You can also check out my other posts about Safety Last! here.

A short segment from the Locations and Effects 2013 documentary with Academy-Award winning effects supervisor Craig Barron and the author filmed for the Criterion Collection release of the Safety Last! Blu-ray appears below.

If you need a good laugh, or want to raise your spirits, just listen to Michael Mortilla’s audio-only recording of the audience laughing and squealing with delight while watching Safety Last!  It’s great to play as background music - the swells and squeals of laughter just grow and grow.

Michael Mortilla accompanying Safety Last!

HAROLD LLOYD images and the names of Mr. Lloyd’s films are all trademarks and/or service marks of Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc. Images and movie frame images reproduced courtesy of The Harold Lloyd Trust and Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc.

The site of the clock set, above, at 908 S. Broadway on Google Maps.

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14 Responses to How Harold Lloyd Filmed Safety Last!

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  7. Jonathan says:

    There are several high and very wide shots in the climbing sequence of Safety Last where Harold, or a stunt performer is seemingly free solo climbing the side of the building; no perspective or facade as described above. Did he do it, or did someone like Harry Gardiner double for him?

    • Hi Jonathan – as I explain in my book, Bill Strother climbed the International Bank Building (1907-1954) formerly at Temple and Spring for the wide shots. The building did not have a clock, so the prop department had to put up a phoney clock on the real building to match shots with Harold on the clock set.

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    • Grace Rellie says:

      Just out of curiosity, did you get a chance to discuss this with Suzanne Llyod? I met her and her son a few years back in Chicago. She knew a lot about her grandfather and explained some of the details into the making of this movie.

      She flew in to Chicago for the first showing of Safety Last since it was put into the vault by Harold. At that time she said she was putting it back in after we saw it at the Gateway Theater (also known as the Copernicus Center.) Later she allowed it to be seen on Turner Classic Movies (TCM.) I’m glad she decided to finally release it to DVD so a few new generations could enjoy it.

      If you weren’t there that night let me tell you we had a ball. The theater was packed and with one gag rolling directly into the next there was no time to catch a breath. We laughed till our sides hurt and we kept laughing. It really was a night to remember. After all, how often do you have a full crowd in a theater all react the same way at the same time?

      Thanks for posting. I found your slides very interesting.

  9. Hi Grace – I’ve met Sue several times – we helped introduce Safety Last in downtown Los Angeles in 2011. One of the most gratifying compliments I have ever received was when she told me how pleased Harold would have been with this research, and that how even she has gained new insight and appreciation for his work.

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