News Column

Harold Lloyd Scales New Heights in Restored Blu-ray 'Safety Last!'

June 16, 2013

LOU LUMENICK

By LOU LUMENICK

'The man who invents a perfect [3-D movie] will have accomplished the greatest achievement since the motion picture," said silent screen comedy legend Harold Lloyd to an interviewer 90 years ago, ranking stereoscopic cinematography above color and sound, technologies then in their infancy.

Suzanne Lloyd has taken her technophile grandfather at his word, showing a five-minute test reel of his most famous film, "Safety Last!," which was computer-converted to 3-D and color at last month's Cannes Film Festival.

"It's the elevation that gives you another dimension in 3-D," she says of that 1923 classic with the indelible image - the daredevil comedian with trademark horn-rimmed black glasses precariously hanging from the hands of a clock on a skyscraper far above Los Angeles. It's instantly recognizable, even by generations who have never seen a silent movie.

For traditionalists, Lloyd has newly licensed her grandfather's library of films - which she's controlled since his death in 1971 - to Janus Films (in theaters) and the Criterion Collection, which will release a gorgeously restored version of "Safety Last!" on Blu- ray on Tuesday.

Lloyd was raised by her grandfather - whose silent films outgrossed those of his contemporaries Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton - and his wife, former leading lady Mildred Davis, who retired after "Safety Last!"

Harold Lloyd scored his biggest success with his talkie debut in 1929, but his optimistic, go-getter character fell out of favor with Depression-era audiences. Except for one failed comeback in 1945, he retired in 1938 a wealthy man - indulging in hobbies like 3-D still photography (Marilyn Monroe was among his models, and he shot nudes of Bettie Page).

"But he didn't want his films on TV, and that really screwed him up in terms of people remembering him," says his granddaughter. "He didn't want someone editing scenes he'd perfectly timed out, and putting in commercials. But he ended up cutting off his nose to spite his face."

Harold put together a very popular compilation feature of his best work in 1962, but a follow-up flopped. And then he died of cancer in 1971 aged 77. With his wife gone, and his two adult children lacking interest, he left around 90 titles - the vast majority of his films - to granddaughter Suzanne, who had already begun working in the vaults on his estate where they were preserved.

"There's a great responsibility when your grandfather says to you, 'I want you to be my trustee, responsible for my life's work,' " she recalls. She signed away the rights as a teenager - to her great regret. "But I was just 19 and his lawyer pressured me to make a 14-year deal with Time-Life Films, which edited the movies and added ragtime music. I was very upset."

She eventually got the rights back and collaborated with restoration legend Kevin Brownlow on five of the films, including "Safety Last!," which got a more appropriate score by Carl Davis, and a feature-length documentary, "The Third Genius," that's part of the new release.

The documentary shows how Lloyd ingeniously staged his breathtaking famous climb - by erecting false facades atop three progressively higher buildings so he would never risk falling more than three stories. (He never fell at all.)

He was doubled only in a few long shots of the building by a stunt man - an illusion routinely accomplished these days through digital effects.

Even more remarkably, Harold Lloyd achieved his climb after losing half of his right hand when a prop bomb exploded in a 1919 accident that almost ended his career.

"He didn't want people to know he had hurt himself, so he wore a special glove on that hand," Suzanne says.

She remembers her grandfather taking her to see the film "Its A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" in 1963 - an all-star comedy he turned down offers to appear in.

"He preferred to do things like showing his films to students," she recalled. "The only time he was tempted to return to acting was 'The Sunshine Boys' on Broadway. But then he got sick."

Suzanne Lloyd often shows her grandfather's films to audiences who were born decades after his birth, comparing him with another bespectacled cinematic wizard.

"You tell the kids this guy is like Harry Potter's older brother," she says, "and this clicks with them."

Originally published by and LOU LUMENICK.

(c) 2013 The New York Post. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

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