expect nothing less than greatness from that Cadillac of DVD/Blu-Ray labels,
The Criterion Collection, and this month’s releases do not disappoint. I’m
betting that even hardcore Cinema Retro readers
may not have seen these two brilliant classics—one a silent film from 1923, the
other a British work of wonder from 1936—both containing jaw-dropping visuals
that will amaze even the most cynical of cinema aficionados.
up—Safety Last!, the film for which
actor Harold Lloyd will be most remembered. Lloyd was often called “the third
genius” (after Chaplin and Keaton), and his works were not readily available to
Baby Boomers because he had refused to sell them to television at the low price
he was offered. Lloyd always felt his films were worth more, and rightly so.
This was a guy who made many more pictures
than either Chaplin or Keaton and transitioned smoothly into the sound era with
no hiccups. He had his own on-screen persona, too—that of an everyman (albeit
with glasses) with whom audiences could more easily identify than with his
if you may not have seen a Harold Lloyd movie, you surely know the iconic still
of the actor hanging from the hands of a gigantic clock on the side of a
skyscraper. This is, of course, from Safety
Last! Lloyd was the purveyor of what was called “thrill comedy,” in which
the actor was forced into physically dangerous situations with comic results.
It was the same kind of excitement we got from watching circus trapeze artists
and the like—we feared for them but also laughed at the routines. Safety Last! is pure brilliance. The
story is simple—the everyman from the small town goes to the big city to make his
fortune so that his fiancée can eventually join him. In order to get the
uber-payoff, Lloyd orchestrates a publicity stunt at the department store where
he works as a lowly salesman—to get a friend of his to climb to the top of the
building’s exterior. Naturally, the friend is preoccupied by a zealous
policeman, so Lloyd has to perform the feat himself. Through a series of
extremely clever photographic effects, the filmmakers make audiences believe
that Lloyd—who did most of his own stunts—really did climb a skyscraper.
Criterion edition sports a new, restored 2K transfer that, on blu-ray, presents
a picture that appears as if the film was made yesterday. A 1989 score by Carl
Davis is synchronized and restored in uncompressed stereo (and there’s an
alternate score by Gaylord Taylor from the late 60s). Audio commentary by
Leonard Maltin and Lloyd archivist Richard Correll is included. Excellent
extras include an introduction by Lloyd’s granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd; a
superb two-hour documentary, Harold
Lloyd: The Third Genius; documentary features on the photographic effects
and music; and three restored Lloyd shorts from 1919 and 1920. Fantastic stuff.
for something completely different—H. G. Wells’ Things to Come, an Alexander Korda production, which was the most
expensive British film to date in 1936. There wasn’t much science fiction on
film in those early days. Aside from Lang’s Metropolis,
most sci-fi on celluloid didn’t come about until the 1950s. Things to Come was totally Wells’
baby—he wrote the screenplay (based on his novel), and unofficially served as
executive producer and consultant.
story focuses on an English village, “Everytown,” and follows it from 1936 to
2036, illustrating the various social and technical changes that take place.
It’s interesting to note what the filmmakers accurately predicted. For example,
Wells foretold the outbreak of world war at Christmas, 1940—he overshot the actual
date by only sixteen months. Most of the film centers on the future years in
the 1960s and 1970s, when Everytown is ruled by a tyrannical dictator (Ralph
Richardson, outrageously chewing the scenery). The star of the picture is
Raymond Massey, who plays a sensible pilot in the early years, and then also
portrays the original character’s great-grandson in the year 2036. Nigel
Hawthorne appears in the later years as an outspoken rebel against the current
government—he too, entertainingly overacts with abandon. It’s all good stuff,
real star of Things to Come is the
art direction/production design. Credited to Vincent Korda, the work, as noted
in the fascinating extra narrated by Christopher Frayling, was actually done by
several designers. The film was directed by William Cameron Menzies, who was
known mostly as a production designer. The “futuristic” scenes of 2036 are
quaintly hilarious with their post-modern, sleek and sterile sets, and costumes
that one contemporary reviewer described as “bathing costumes”—but for science
fiction enthusiasts, this was a groundbreaking, daring film for its time. It’s
a bit on the preachy side—a cautionary tale for those living in 1936—but it’s
also an important, courageous piece of art from Korda’s company, London Films.
also include clips of unused special effects by artist Lásló Moholy-Nagy, a visual
essay on the musical score, and an audio recording of Wells reading about the
“wandering sickness,” a plague-like disease featured in the film.