#86) The Freshman (1925)
OR “The New College Try”
Directed by Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor
Written by Taylor & Ted Wilde & John Grey & Tim Whelan
Class of 1990
The Plot: Harold Lamb (Harold Lloyd) is about to start his freshman year at Tate University and is determined to be Big Man on Campus. He emulates his favorite movie character – The College Hero – and ends up becoming the oblivious butt of many jokes. Peggy (Jobyna Ralston), his landlady’s daughter, is the only person who shows genuine kindness to him. The film culminates in the big football game, where Harold dreams of scoring the winning touchdown, despite not knowing he is only the team’s waterboy.
Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “the perfect showcase for Lloyd’s ingenious gags, physical humor and tender pathos”. Also included is an essay by unrelated Harold Lloyd expert Annette D’Agostino Lloyd and her website devoted to the man.
But Does It Really?: Equal parts funny and endearing, “The Freshman” is still an enjoyable comedy over 90 years later. Lloyd is very engaging and the theme of acceptance set against the hectic college lifestyle still rings true today. Though I am surprised that “The Freshman” made it onto the NFR list on only the second round, while the Harold Lloyd film – “Safety Last!” – had to wait another four years.
Wow, That’s Dated: All kinds of ‘20s slang in this one, including but not limited to “stand treat”, “dubs” and “petting party” (the last one sounding like a lot of fun). In addition we get a reference to Simon Legree, the slave owner from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. Yeesh.
- While he produced all of his pictures and was definitely “the muscle” behind them, Harold Lloyd was rarely credited as director or writer. This film is no exception.
- Harold Lamb may be the first movie character to idolize another (albeit fictional) movie character. If he had waited a few years he could have had a Paul Muni “Scarface” poster in his room.
- Nice use of animated title cards for Harold’s college cheers.
- How can this be a ‘20s college picture when no one tries phone booth stuffing or flagpole sitting?
- The version I watched featured the 2002 re-orchestration by Robert Israel. It includes the “Oriental Riff” you are required to sample when China is mentioned, as well as college campus staple “Gaudeamus igitur”.
- So even back then movies had crotchety old deans?
- James Anderson (Chet) was 22 when filming began, making him the only major cast member who was actually the correct age to play a college student. By comparison, Harold Lloyd was 31.
- At one point Harold stuffs a cat in his sweater, and then at a later point holds a baby between his legs. W.C. Fields must have loved this film.
- Lloyd loves the gag of thinking someone else goosed you and then slapping the wrong person.
- Ah, America’s proud heritage of male cheerleaders. You are this nation’s true heroes.
- I don’t know much about college football, but I feel like Harold violates a lot of rules during the big game.
- Speaking of, that’s the lowest scoring football game I’ve ever seen. For god sake I’ve been to soccer games with higher scores!
- This film was inspired by (and helped continue) the college craze that was going through movies at the time. 23 Skidoo and whatnot I guess.
- Footage from the big football game was repurposed in Lloyd’s final star vehicle, “The Sin of Harold Diddlebock”.
- Hmmm…a lovable social misfit goes to college and becomes the football team’s waterb-OH GOD NO!
[Side note: Lloyd’s granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd Hayes tried to sue Disney and “The Waterboy” for plagiarism. I admit there are some similarities, but not enough to warrant any legal action. In the “Sentences I Never Thought I’d Write” department; the court ruled in favor of “The Waterboy”.]
[Side side note: Ironically, “The Freshman” itself was sued for plagiarism by author H.C. Witmer in 1929, claiming the film was similar to his short story “The Emancipation of Rodney”. The original case ruled for Witmer, which required all prints of “The Freshman” to be destroyed. This ruling was overturned on appeal, and a classic was saved.]
Further Viewing: Completely unrelated to this film, “The Freshman” is also the name of a 1990 Matthew Broderick/Marlon Brando comedy that I can’t believe I neglected to mention in my “Godfather” write-up.