Safety Last!

Harold Lloyd’s portrayal of life minimum-waged among bloodthirsty department store throngs will resonate with those who’ve worked on the other side of the counter (and that probably accounts for most of us in the 99%).

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The classic 1923 silent comedy follows the misadventures of “The Boy,” who works as a lowly sales associate in The Big City.

It’s so accurate I’m convinced the film’s creators worked at Bloomingdale’s or Macy’s at some point. Not much has changed since then. That the phrase “Safety First,” which the film’s title parodies, is still used in corny mandatory safety videos just confirms it (John ignored safety first rules and stood on the top ladder rung. Now he’s dead. *Cue ominous music*). And the scene where hordes of sale-crazed shoppers attack The Boy could come straight from a modern-day Black Friday free-for-all.

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It brought back fond memories. There’s this one scene where a matronly patron asks to see every bolt of cloth on the shelves. In the end she leaves with just a tiny free sample. My experience was similar, only it involved king comforter sets and the tallest shelf in the store. Ah, retail. How I … don’t miss you. 

The Boy promises his fiancé, The Girl (Mildred Davis), he’ll send for her as soon as he makes enough money for them to get married. Of course he lies, writing that he’s making gobs of money and ordering peons around when in reality he’s a lowly clerk behind on rent in the ratty apartment he shares with “The Pal” (Bill Strother, who has a fantastic albeit stomach-churning scene reminiscent of Ebbet’s famous photograph).

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To prove his fabulous success, The Boy buys her a pendant — instead of paying rent — then later a matching chain (instead of paying rent). So naturally The Girl takes matters into her own hands and heads on over to The Big City to marry him. Seeing as he’s so wealthy and all…

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This of course presents a problem for our endearing, not-quite-so-honest hero, and he concocts a scheme to attract customers to the store in exchange for prize money. The idea? Have his friend scale the store building. Only he can’t make it at the last minute, so guess who does it instead?

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It’s a fantastic film; witty, true to life (some parts, anyway), and just plain fun to watch.

 

 

September Swashbucklers: Captain Blood

This month’s theme will be (drumroll, please) … Swashbucklers! We’ll start with the 1935 film Captain Blood, a highlight of the genre starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland.

 

Liz: “Will you be back for breakfast?” the housekeeper asked.

“Who knows, my pretty one? Who knows?” Peter Blood replied.

Who knows what will happen next to quick talking, quick thinking Peter Blood in this movie based on Rafael Sabatini’s novel of the same name. Peace loving physician to Jamaican slave to feared pirate captain, Blood goes from one adventure to another.

I love the witty remarks of Peter Blood (a perfect role for Errol Flynn) and the intelligent, bold way he plots and executes the escape of himself and his fellow slaves. Stealing the all but abandoned Spanish pirate ship as the pirates raid the town is brilliant. As is the way he later sails between two French ships with a French flag flying until just before he attacks them to once again save Port Royal.

I didn’t care for Peter and his friends becoming pirates and frequenting Tortuga, but I understood why the bitter Peter chose to do so. It is also fitting to the story that Peter should buy and then fight for Arabella Bishop, while pretending to ignore her.

Quick moving plot with many unexpected turns, sword fights and naval battles, memorable characters, romance, and a happy ending make this one of my favorite adventure movies. The actors themselves—Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone (the often featured swashbuckling villain) and many other familiar character actors—also greatly add to the enjoyment.

Favorite quotes:

“Hi ho for the Governor’s foot!”

“Do you think you could find a piece of timber about this long and this high?”

“I think so.”

“Good. Lash it to your spine; it needs stiffening.”

Jaz: Errol Flynn forever ruined my impression of pirates. It’s entirely his fault the mere mention of the word conjures images of an impeccably dressed, sword-fighting gentleman with a debonair smile. Especially the smile. And Captain Blood started it all.

The film follows the main character, Peter Blood, as he goes from being an honorable physician to a slave in the West Indies to a – surprise! – pirate captain and then to a –

But I don’t want to spoil the ending for those who haven’t watched it. And yes, I do realize I’ve spoiled the ending for pretty much every movie we’ve discussed. I couldn’t help it.

Colonel Bishop, the detestable evil despicable slave owner (played with a zest by Lionel Atwill), just so happens to be uncle to beautiful Arabella (Olivia de Havilland), who just so happens to fancy the impertinent Blood, who just so happens to be a slave for sale after being convicted of treason for treating a wounded man, who just so happened to be a soldier in the Monmouth rebellion.

Arabella buys Blood for 10 pounds, partly to spite her uncle, partly to rescue him from working in the mines, but mostly because he’s Errol Flynn. Of course we all know what ensues. Later, the brilliant Blood manages to escape on a ship with his companions and becomes the most well-known and respected pirate on the high seas.

Throughout Captain Blood, there’s enough swashbuckling action to satisfy even the most demanding classic action film fan: sword fights, explosions, raids, commandeerings, more sword fights, and … sword fights! The special effects are convincing and the fights intense. The film’s main death, shot on a rocky shore awash in foaming waves, was quite dramatic. I also liked the use of light and shadow, particularly in the opening scenes.

I love this film, partly because of the above-mentioned content, partly because I like the main character … but mostly because he’s Errol Flynn.