Early in Roscoe Arbuckle’s charming feature comedy The Life of the Party (1920), his character, instantly smitten by a female visitor to his high-rise law offices, stumbles backward through an open window, and hangs precipitously several stories in the air. Though not integral to the plot, Roscoe’s brief scene presages Harold Lloyd’s later stunt climbing work in downtown Los Angeles, and has a direct connection with Lloyd’s masterpiece Safety Last! (1923).
Roscoe filmed his stunt atop the stepped-back terraced roof of the extant Bartlett Building, built in 1911 at 215 W. 7th Street, in the heart of the Los Angeles historic core, converted now to condos and lofts. Behind Roscoe, visible up the street, stands the extant Merchants National Bank Building (now also condos and lofts) at 548 S. Spring Street. Harold Lloyd built a set atop the Merchants Bank to stage the final (and highest) segment of his climb up a skyscraper in Safety Last!
Lloyd filmed a total of five stunt climbing comedies: Look Out Below (1919), High and Dizzy (1919), Never Weaken (1921), Safety Last!, and Feet First (1930). The first three were filmed using sets overlooking the Hill Street Tunnel (see post HERE), while Never Weaken went further, staging scenes filmed atop the extant Ville de Paris Department Store building at the SE corner of 7th and Olive. Thus, when Roscoe filmed TLOTP during April 15 – May 22 of 1920, he filmed in downtown, on a real building, more than a year before Harold did. You can read a list of the 17 real buildings (14 are still standing) that appear in Harold’s stunt films at this PDF link.
The establishing shot of Roscoe was filmed at the 7th Street entrance to the Bartlett Building, also known at the time as the Union Oil Building, its primary tenant. You can barely read “Union Oil Building” over the door, as well as the bottom edges of the numerals “215” (see below).
Roscoe’s stunt scene could be easily recreated today from the same rooftop. I often wonder why this simple and highly effective shooting technique, more convincing than CGI, is not used in modern films.
We are all indebted to Paul Gierucki, Brittany Valente, and CineMuseum, LLC for restoring The Life of the Party
so beautifully, and to TCM for broadcasting it for eager viewers to enjoy.
I have many other posts about Safety Last! you can view here. HAROLD LLOYD images and the names of Mr. Lloyd’s films are all trademarks and/or service marks of Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc. Images and movie frame images reproduced courtesy of The Harold Lloyd Trust and Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc.
The Bartlett Building today, at the NW corner of 7th and Spring.