Up there with Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd is one of the most popular comedy stars of silent television. Naturally funny, he’s best known for his bespectacled ‘Glasses’ character – an average, success-seeking young man who is seemingly capable of conquering any obstacle thrown at him. Famed for his ‘thrill sequences’, Lloyd’s films often contain extended chase scenes in which he carries out daredevil physical feats. Lloyd’s most famous thrill sequence is found in his much-adored movie Safety Last! (1923), directed by Sam Taylor and Fred Newmeyer. As part of an outrageous plot to win $1000 dollars, the lead character finds himself dangling from a clock perched atop a skyscraper. This has since become one of the most enduring images, not only in silent film, but in all of cinema.
The story behind this scene is typical of Lloyd’s movies. Country boy promises girl that he’ll go to the big city, carve out a financially stable life for them both, and then send for her. In actual fact, the only job he can hold down is that of a lowly salesclerk. By sending his girlfriend lavish gifts he disguises his lack of success, however by doing so he also leads the girl into coming to the city in a bid to start their new life. Hilarity ensues as Lloyd’s character poses as the manager of the store, is exposed, and risks everything for a lump sum that might afford him the life that he and his girlfriend desire. His idea? Persuade his roommate, who is a construction worker and an excellent climber, to scale the building where he works, in a stunt that might just persuade his boss to give him $1000. What could possibly go wrong?
The original score for the movie was composed and conducted by Carl Davis, with orchestration by Nic Raine. In an acknowledgement of the magic that comes with live-scoring silent movies, though, this screening will feature an improvised live piano score by Darius Battiwalla. Born in Islington in 1966, Battiwalla learnt the piano by ear at a very early age. After attending The University of Leeds to study Music, he went on to complete postgraduate diplomas in Organ and Piano Accompaniment at the RNCM, where he won prizes on both instruments. We look forward to enjoying the extra dimension that Battiwalla’s improvisation brings to this wonderful film.
Safety Last! won’t be the only screening at RNCM that evening. The short film One Week (1920) will also be shown. Directed by Edward F Cline and Buster Keaton, and also starring Keaton, the film tells the story of a newly wedded couple attempting to erect a house with a farcical DIY build-a-home kit. All the while, though, they are unaware that their efforts are being sabotaged by a rival. The house looks askew, falls down, and there are a host of wild stunts along the way designed to make the audience chuckle. It’s an early Buster Keaton short which still has an enormous amount of charm all of these years later, and it makes a lovely companion piece for Safety Last!