Chris Hicks: Harold Lloyd's clock-hanging comedy leads vintage movies in theaters this month

Published: Thursday, July 4 2013 8:10 p.m. MDT

Harold Lloyd hangs from a clock on a high-rise building in the hilarious 1923 comedy Harold Lloyd hangs from a clock on a high-rise building in the hilarious 1923 comedy "Safety Last," one of a slew of vintage movies in theaters this month. (Hal Roach Studios)

How well do you know your silent-movie comedians? That is, The Big Three, the trifecta of early-cinema comic geniuses. Does it mean anything to you when the names Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd are invoked?

Charlie Chaplin is probably the one you know best, an indelible figure whose image is still all over the place, often in the company of such other movie icons as Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Humphrey Bogart. Even if you haven’t seen a Chaplin film you have certainly seen a picture of the Little Tramp, shabbily dressed with a small mustache, a cane and a funny walk.

Next comes Buster Keaton, whose reputation has risen in the past couple of decades, though not to Chaplin’s level. Keaton is the guy with the deadpan look that never changes, even as he performs hair-raising stunts. His nickname was “The Great Stone Face.”

The “Third Genius,” as he’s sometimes called, is Harold Lloyd, although why he should remain the least remembered of the three is baffling since you have also seen his, no less iconic, image: He’s the guy hanging from the hands of a clock on a high-rise building with traffic rumbling below. That’s right; that guy.

And you can get to know Lloyd a little better starting today as the Tower Theater begins a weeklong run of his most famous film — the one with that clock-hanging sequence — “Safety Last” (1923). And there’s nothing like seeing it on a huge theater screen.

And if that’s not enough, on Saturday (July 6) at 7 p.m. you can see it with live organ accompaniment — that’s both music and sound effects — courtesy of Organ Loft regular Blaine Gale, as talented a musician as you can find for the job. (saltlakefilmsociety.org)

Seeing movies in a theater, especially movies from another era, is a special treat, and we’re fortunate to have so many revivals going on around the state these days. Another Cinemark Classics Series is gearing up and there are also golden oldies in July at Peery’s Egyptian Theater in Ogden and the SCERA Theater in Orem, with titles ranging from “The Miracle Worker” to “American Graffiti.”

“Grease” (1978, PG). Occasionally raunchy but undeniably bouncy and engaging musical comedy set in a 1950s high school with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John as on-again, off-again sweethearts. Stockard Channing steals the show and a bevy of aging stars (Eve Arden, Sid Caesar, Joan Blondell) get some nice comic moments. NOTE: This is the “Sing-A-Long” version, which means lyrics are printed and the audience dances and sings with the movie. (Sunday, July 7, 2 p.m., and Wednesday, July 10, 2 and 7 p.m., Cinemark Theatres, cinemark.com)

“Broadway Melody of 1940” (1940, b/w). Fred Astaire and George Murphy are dance partners who become rivals for the affections of Eleanor Powell in this sprightly backstage musical that scores with witty comedy and a bushel of classic Cole Porter songs. (Friday, July 12, 10 a.m., SCERA Center, Orem, scera.org)

“Back to the Future” (1985, PG). Hilarious, still-popular fantasy/comedy about a teenager (Michael J. Fox) teaming up with a zany scientist (Christopher Lloyd) to travel back in time and fix up the boy’s parents when they were teens. Irresistible time-travel wackiness. (Sunday, July 14, 2 p.m., and Wednesday, July 17, 2 and 7 p.m., Cinemark Theatres, cinemark.com)

“Bend of the River” (1952). Colorful western filmed in Oregon, the first of several that helped James Stewart’s transition from folksy, homespun characters to darker, more complex types. Here, he’s a reformed outlaw scouting for a wagon train of settlers when a gold rush brings them into conflict with miners. Arthur Kennedy, Julie Adams and Rock Hudson co-star. (Friday, July 19, 10 a.m., SCERA Center, Orem, scera.org)

“National Lampoon’s Animal House” (1978, R for language, sex, nudity). Overrated, only sporadically funny and extremely raunchy, but popular and influential comedy about a slob frat house full of misfit college students, circa 1962. The cast is rich with future stars: John Belushi, Tom Hulce, Karen Allen, Kevin Bacon, Peter Riegert. (Sunday, July 21, 2 p.m., and Wednesday, July 24, 2 and 7 p.m., Cinemark Theatres, cinemark.com)

“Support Your Local Sheriff” (1969, G). James Garner plays a character out of the “Maverick” playbook in this hilarious Old West comedy, a cowpoke who abhors violence and won’t wear a gun but is nonetheless reluctantly recruited to be sheriff. Many memorable moments, as when he puts his finger in a gun pointed in his direction by Walter Brennan and the jail without bars that holds Bruce Dern. Joan Hackett, Harry Morgan and Jack Elam co-star. (Wednesday, July 24, 11:45 a.m. and 2 p.m., Peery’s Egyptian Theater, Ogden, egyptiantheaterogden.com)

“The Miracle Worker” (1962, b/w). Justly famous adaptation of the Broadway play about sight-impaired tutor Anne Sullivan trying desperately to reach blind and deaf Helen Keller, and their turbulent relationship until there is finally a breakthrough. Anne Bancroft as Sullivan and Patty Duke as young Keller repeated their Broadway roles and both won Oscars. (Friday, July 26, 10 a.m., SCERA Center, Orem, scera.org)

“American Graffiti” (1973, PG). George Lucas was able to make “Star Wars” because he struck box-office gold with this funny, insightful look at teens fresh out of high school in 1962, cruising and drag racing on the last night of summer. The lead role gave Richard Dreyfuss a huge boost and many other rising stars are on display: Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Harrison Ford, Kathleen Quinlan, Suzanne Somers. Also boasts a great rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack. (Sunday, July 28, 2 p.m., and Wednesday, July 31, 2 and 7 p.m., Cinemark Theatres, cinemark.coms)

“The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” (1966). Upon leaving “The Andy Griffith Show,” Don Knotts put his nervous-comic persona to good use in several starring films, and this haunted-house farce (and perhaps “The Incredible Mr. Limpet”) is the most enduring. (Friday, Aug. 2, 10 a.m., SCERA Center, Orem, scera.org)

Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parents Guide to Movie Ratings." His website is www.hicksflicks.com, Email: hicks@deseretnews.com

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