CineMathematics or CinemaThematics. Your choice

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Morals Last!

Saftey Last! gave film on of its most enduring images, a man in a straw hat and thick-rimmed glasses hanging from a clock. Most people think that is the only thing to come from Harold Lloyd, but he gave something significantly more important. Lloyd's creation, credited as The Boy, is a generally unlikable character. In this way, Lloyd's character stands in stark contrast to Chaplin's Tramp and Keaton's characters, who are almost always sympathetic in their exploits.

The Boy is extremely selfish, and he is punished for it. He lies to his girlfriend, so, to keep up the illusion, he buys her jewelery with his food money. In The Gold Rush, the Tramp also goes without food. However, this is because of the harshness of the winter. He does his cute little dance with the frozen rolls, and the audience loves him. The Boy, instead, gives his money to the jeweler and watches his food disappear from a display plate. Of course, the Tram wins our sympathy in this comparison, but Lloyd earns our respect by forcing us to align ourselves with an imperfect character. The Tramp is the perfect person constantly in the wrong position. The Boy creates his problems, and he needs to work his way out of it.

The Boy is a human character, which is more than can be said about other silent comic creations. He has his flaws, but he still shows his good side occasionally. The most notable point in Safety Last! comes when the Boy is at work. Forced to handle an unruly mob, the Boy is barely able to stand up. But this is where he shows his true goodness. An old woman enters the store. She is clearly too weak to make her way to the front of the mob, and the Boy notices this. He takes advantage of the other women's greed by lying about a piece of fabric that has fallen on the floor. When everyone ducks to grab it for themselves, the Boy gives the old woman the fabric she wants.

Eventually, the Boy redeems himself. But before he does, he must suffer for his faults. He is given an actual character arc, unlike other silent comics. For this, he deserves respect. Safety Last! was key in making comedies have more than just slapstick, and it should be seen for that. That and a man hanging from a clock.

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Blogger Damian said...

Incidentally, did you notice that although Harold Lloyd's character is credited as simply "The Boy", in the scene where he receives his paycheck, you can clearly see the name "Harold Lloyd" printed on it?

8:47 PM

Blogger Dan E. said...

I did notice that actually. There are some great details they throw in there, like the emphasis on not being able to hear each other in the crowd scenes. I actually found that funnier than most of the pratfalls.

1:03 AM


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