The nearly last – Safety Last – joke

Three different Safety Last! rooftops for the closing scene, 548 S. Spring Street, 3rd and Spring, and 908 S. Broadway.

Surviving his heroic climb up a skyscraper during Safety Last!, Harold Lloyd falls into the arms of his loving fiancé Mildred Davis, waiting for him on the rooftop. As reported in another post, this satisfying conclusion was actually filmed from atop three different buildings all still standing in downtown, 548 S. Spring Street, the Washington Building at 3rd and Spring, and 908 S. Broadway. But as shown here, a fourth building was briefly involved in the final scene. (In all Lloyd employed 17 downtown buildings during his “thrill” comedies – see PDF list of descriptions here).

Harold’s roommate was supposed to make the climb (portrayed by real-life stunt climber Bill Strother), but Harold starts in his place when vengeful cop Noah Young chases Bill inside the building. At each floor of Harold’s climb Bill promises to switch places as soon as he can ditch the cop, a running gag.

The 908 S. Broadway building owners recreate the closing scene – Harold losing his shoes and socks.

Once safe at last on the roof, the movie closes with Harold losing his shoes and socks to a sticky puddle of tar (at left), the final joke of the movie, preceded by “drunken” character actor Earl Mohan helplessly entangled in a volleyball net (below). But the joke preceding Earl, the second to last joke of the entire film, tops off the running gag by showing Noah still chasing after Bill on a faraway roof down below, with Bill still pleading to Harold in tiny intertitle print “I’ll be right back – Soon as I ditch the cop.”

Noah Young chases Bill Strother along the roof of the former Mott Building.

This nearly last Safety Last joke was filmed looking down from the ten story Higgins Building, still standing at 2nd and Main, as Bill and Noah scramble north across rooftops from 141 S. Main to the Mott Building at 135 S. Main. Having studied the other Safety Last downtown locations, I knew this closing gag with Noah and Bill was not filmed near these other spots, and seemingly unsolvable, gave it no further thought.

Revisiting the scene years later, I realized from the light and angles that it was likely filmed looking north from the top of a fairly tall building. I also noticed trolley tracks in the street, and that one building had a finial (F) and a central, triangular parapet (P), while its neighbor had projecting twin bay windows, each sheltered by a curved roof (B) (see above). So I scrutinized vintage aerial photos for tall buildings south of two story parapets and bay windows, and before long found the corner of 2nd and Main. Once identified, numerous ground level photos and vintage maps confirmed the location. This street level view above looks north up Main from 2nd towards the Natick Hotel and City Hall. USC Digital Library.

Above (click to enlarge), this 1927 view is one of several vintage aerial views that helped to identify this closing scene. The arrow marks the camera’s point of view.

Click to enlarge – another view from the Higgins Building looking down on where Noah chased Bill, with City Hall at back. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Above, the full view in the movie, filmed in 1922, with a matching aerial closeup from 1928.

Update: Silent comedy friend Dave Glass posted on his Reel Comedies YouTube Channel remarkable alternate footage from Safety Last! paired with scenes from the released version of the film. Above, a wider alternate view of Noah chasing Bill, the Hotel Natick barely visible at back. You can view this scene on YouTube HERE.

Above, matching views up Main from Second, with City Hall at back. USC Digital Library and Palmer Conner collection Huntington Digital Library. At left, yet another view – LAPL.

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.

Below, a matching modern view north up Main Street from the Higgins Building on the left corner.

This entry was posted in Harold Lloyd, Los Angeles Historic Core, Safety Last! and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The nearly last – Safety Last – joke

  1. Bob Borgen says:

    Another brilliant conclusion from amazingly detailed studies. Thanks John!


  2. Greg says:

    Another great bit of sleuthing on your part! Thank you again for the share.
    I frequently make the trip from Palm Springs over to LA and always try to time my trips time so I can swing through the area around Main and the low numbered streets. While this is pretty much the dead center of skid row today, it still oozes history to those who want to see it. Due in no small part to your on-going effort to keep a solid tether to this rich past.
    It is more than a little seedy but I feel very comfortable there. I will cruise these streets in my car, on my bike or get out and walk. Often with an address in hand that I’ve copied from one of your blogs. Some of the buildings I recognize immediately; others seem like rediscovered gems, viewing vicariously through your atavistic lens.
    These brick and mortar sentries, still standing, seem to have taken the last hundred years in stride. I’m always disappointed that there are no banners declaring “HUGE MOVIE WAS SHOT HERE ALMOST 100 YEARS AGO!” But I always feel like there should be. If I owned one of those buildings, you can bet I’d put one up!
    From bustling downtown center to an almost forgotten neighborhood swamped with tent camps. Who knows? Maybe some form of urban renewal will take hold and re-purpose these fine old buildings and breath another hundred years of life back into them. Unlikely, but a romantic thought.
    For me 3rd & Main is like standing on the Ed Sullivan Theater Stage on Broadway. You can still feel the vibe of all the great ones who stood right there as well.
    Thanks again for keeping this small part of the true Golden Age of Hollywood fresh and alive for all of us. I strongly encourage all of your followers to benefit from your endless work and visit these spots you so tirelessly seek out, while they still stand. Done at your own pace, it can make for a fun and interesting afternoon. Again, the 3rd and Main area may be a little derelict today but it’s not dangerous. I’d say it’s more off beat and diverse.
    Go see it.
    Before it’s all gone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Greg – I very much appreciate your thoughtful comments over the years. (And I must confess I had to pull out the dictionary to remind myself about “atavistic,” so I learned a new word too!) Movies are time machines, so each little discovery helps connect us to the past. Have fun on your adventures, and thanks again. Best wishes – John


  3. Scott Charles says:

    Brilliant as always, John! Your skills never cease to amaze me!


  4. Bill Counter says:

    Lovely, John! Again, it’s siperb detective work. I had some Mott’s Hall material but you filled it out nicely. I took the liberty of grabbing some of the images you located. Mott’s had quite a history as all-purpose exhibition hall as well as variety theatre. We’ll see what turns up next. A click on my name will get you to the upgraded page. Thanks!


    • Hi Bill – glad this was of interest. It was interesting to see all of your photos and information about the Mott Building. It seems like every large early building at some point had use as a theater. Thanks again – John


  5. Pingback: Solved at Last! – the Safety Last! Mystery Building | Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd film locations (and more)

  6. Sam Estrada says:

    I’ve enjoyed following your detective work after stumbling upon it while researching the Brockman Building on the corner of 7th and Grand. I also came across a mention on another site that mentioned that “Safety Last” was filmed at the Brockman Building. I understand from your research now that the Brockman was probably not utilized for the filming, but may have only served as a movie-making inspiration for Harold Lloyd after he witnessed Strothers performing a climbing stunt at that site. Can you confirm this accounting?
    My interest into the Brockman stems from John C. Brockman, who built his edifice in 1912. John Brockman made his fortune from mining in Southwestern New Mexico and Southeastern Arizona. He was also a ranching neighbor of my great-grandfather Carlos Norero along the Mimbres Valley near Silver City, NM.
    Your research of “Safety Last” filming sites has been a great sleuthing thrill ride!
    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Sam – as detailed extensively in my Lloyd book Silent Visions, and elsewhere on this blog, the “final” rooftop used primarily for the closing scenes was the Merchants National Bank Building at 6th and Spring. Lloyd historian Annette D’Agostino Lloyd writes in her “Harold Lloyd Encyclopedia” pp 308-309 that during the summer of 1922 Lloyd witnessed Bill Strother climbing the Brockman Building. The stunt was so stressful for Harold that he couldn’t bear to watch, and hid around a corner, peeking occasionaly to see how Bill was doing. That’s when it dawned on Harold – if the climbing stunt had this great an effect on him, what would it do to movie audiences? So Harold signed Bill immediately to appear in the film. Best regards, John


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