Harold Lloyd to Buster Keaton: Viral Video Shows Glimpse Into How Movie Stunts Were Filmed

Film stunts are nothing new, but a viral thread online has shown that they have certainly come a long way in the past century.

A Reddit thread discussing how special effects and illusions were used in movies of yesteryear has drawn plenty of reaction. We live in the golden age of technology and have been impacted on the silver screen by special effects and CGI.

The black-and-white video making its rounds features a famous movie scene from the 1923 movie Safety Last!

The silent romantic comedy stars Harold Lloyd, who as the thread shows is often confused for famous actor Buster Keaton. A famous scene from the 73-minute film features Lloyd's character, "The Boy," hanging off the hands of a massive clock attached to a skyscraper.

Safety Last!
Harold Lloyd finds himself in a precarious situation dangling from a clock in a scene from the film "Safety Last!" A recent Reddit thread discussed the movie stunts of yesteryear. Evening Standard/Getty

Safety Last! worked on a $121,000 budget but has had a lasting impact. Not only did it make a big movie star out of Lloyd, who conducted the stunt without a thumb and forefinger due to a previous accident, but it also made $1.5 million at the box office.

But as the video posted on Reddit showed, Lloyd wasn't left literally hanging a few stories up. Footage from a long view of the angle showed a camera perched on a building top, while a mattress is located directly underneath Lloyd for him to safely fall onto—no pun intended.

Some alleged that test runs of the now infamous scene were conducted using dummies, with some of them bouncing off the building rather than falling onto the mattress.

"Cool camera trick, but he was STILL up on a high building with nothing but a mattress to keep him from going over the edge," one Reddit user chimed in.

"The perspective is confusing, even zoomed out," another responded. "He is probably a few metres [sic] from the edge and would still be fine if he fell."

It is all about perspective, after all, said one user.

"It's all about the POV and framing," the Redditor said. "Next time you watch anything think about where the camera person is for each shot. As a rule, we are used to it changing every six seconds or so. If it is different it is usually done for effect to influence the pacing.

Safety Last! was selected for preservation in the United States Film Registry in 1994.

Keaton, on the other hand, is likely most well-known for his "stunt" that involved a house falling on top of him in the 1928 silent comedy Steamboat Bill Jr.—only for him to be standing in the perfect spot where his standing body perfectly fits through an open window.

As one Redditor described it, "Keaton had a somewhat different technique. He'd do the first take, and if it didn't go perfectly, he'd die."