Let Safety Last! remind us of two important things: one, that SIFF also screens magnificent archival films like this one, as well as contemporary works; and two, that just because something is iconic doesn’t mean you’ve actually, well, seen it. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t recognize the indelible image of Harold Lloyd hanging perilously from that clock tower, but I hadn’t even seen that one scene until a few years ago, and this weekend was my first time seeing the whole film start to finish. Janus Films has done a brilliant job restoring it—it’s stunningly clear—so even if you’ve seen it before, it’s worth another, much clearer viewing.
The film strings together an inexhaustible supply of brilliant sight-gags and bits. My kids especially liked one where Lloyd and his roommate hide from their landlady by climbing inside their coats and hanging themselves on a coat rack, while my favorite involved dealing with a ravenous pack of old ladies at a sale counter. But there is in fact a plot, as well. Lloyd goes to The Big City to Make it Big, and keeps involving himself in ever escalating shenanigans to try and front that he’s successful. The breathtaking final ascent up the building is in pursuit of a reward that’ll save him from admitting to his girl that he can’t even pay for lunch. I really hope they reuse the print after the festival wraps up to let another crowd enjoy it.