Among the comedy greats of the silent cinema Harold Lloyd was the collegiate kid, the young, modern guy full of energy and urban attitude, but he only played a college boy in one movie.
In The Freshman (1925) he plays sweet, spunky Harold Lamb, a small town boy who prepares himself for college life by watching movies and reading dime novels. “I’m just a regular fellow – step right up and call me ‘Speedy’,” he says by way of greeting, complete with a little jig he picked up from the movies.
Of course he becomes the butt of jokes and he obliviously plays along, convinced he’s in the running of “Most Popular” while the student body laughs behind his back. What would be a humiliating ordeal to anyone else becomes a challenge for Harold to win over everyone. He takes a beating as a human tackling dummy at football practice and comes back for more, just so to get on the team. Because, as those same mean-spirited pranksters remind him, you won’t win “Most Popular” if you’re not on a football player. Meanwhile he completely misses the proverbial girl next door (Jobyna Ralston) who appreciates him for who he is.
It would kind of sad if Harold wasn’t so darned plucky. You can’t help but root for a kid with this much college spirit. His mix of spunky resilience and wide-eyed obliviousness makes him both admirable and pathetic, at least until the energetic naïf proves himself in the big football game.
Lloyd handed direction over to regular collaborators Sam Taylor and Fred C. Newmeyer but was intimately involved with every stage of production and he makes sure that every gag (and this film is chock full of them) is perfectly executed, right down to the big scenes on the football field and a finale that is both rousing and hilarious.
The thrill comedy Safety Last remains Lloyd’s most famous film but The Freshman became the biggest hit of his career and the definitive college comedy of the 1920s. It was also a turning point in his career: the introduction of a sweeter, less smart-alecky character. It’s an all-time comedy classic.
Black and white, silent with music score
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The Freshman (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray + DVD]
Criterion presents a superbly mastered disc with a stunning image, a snappy new musical score, and an excellent collection of supplements, including three Lloyd comedy shorts (The Marathon, 1919, An Eastern Westerner, 1920, and High and Dizzy, 1920), audio commentary by director and Harold Lloyd archivist Richard Correll, film historian Richard Bann, and film critic Leonard Maltin, an on-camera introduction to by Harold Lloyd filmed in 1966, plus additional featurettes and archival interviews and an accompanying booklet. The Blu-ray+DVD Combo offers the film and all the supplements in both formats.