Cast & Crew
Harold Lamb, an eager, uncoordinated college freshman who yearns to be the most popular man on campus, incurs contempt from a college cad and others when he emulates the demeanour of a movie college man. He tries to win friendship by spending most of his college money treating his classmates, but is only truly liked by Peggy, the daughter of his landlady. Harold, who now likes to go by the nickname "Speedy," tries further measures to make himself popular and attempts to join the football team. Because the football coach admires the unathletic Harold's spirit, he makes him the team waterboy but lets him think he is actually an alternate. Harold soon throws a big party for the Fall Frolic and is happy at his seeming popularity, even though his only baste-stitched tuxedo falls apart, despite the best efforts of the college tailor. When the campus cad tries to force himself on Peggy, the now disseveled Harold fights him. In retaliation, the cad tells him his true role on the football team. Although shattered by the revealation, Harold is consoled by Peggy, who tells him that people will like him if he will just be himself. A short time later, during the big game, Harold finally gains an opportunity to prove himself on the football field by scoring the winning goal after injuries leave the team short-handed. Finally able to be himself, Harold wins popularity as well as the love of Peggy.
Robert A. Golden
Thomas J. Grey
John L. Murphy
Liell K. Vedder
The Freshman on Criterion DVD and Blu-ray
Lloyd had tried out a number of personae over his career but when he put on those round glasses and flashed that smile, he created the incarnation that made him one of the biggest stars of the twenties. He referred to that creation as "the glasses character" but in the movies he was invariably called Harold. In The Freshman he's Harold Lamb, a small town boy preparing to go to college by watching movies and practicing his elaborate greeting, a little jig of a dance step followed by an extended hand and a slogan of an introduction: "I'm just a regular fellow - step right up and call me 'Speedy'." (Fans of Yasujiro Ozu may recognize that bit from his Japanese college comedies like I Flunked, But... , an example of life imitating art; where Harold copies it from a fake movie, Ozu's students pick it up from their love of Harold Lloyd comedies.) He's convinced himself that the movies and the dime novels about campus heroes are an accurate portrait of college life and he studies them like textbooks. In fact, he studies them instead of textbooks. The Freshman is a college film where no one attends a class, goes to the library, or crams for a test. "Tate University - A large football stadium, with a college attached," reads the title card for Harold's arrival on campus, and the film makes good on the joke.
This is your basic underdog triumph tale. Harold is the energetic naïf who arrives at school in duds years out of date and a gee-whiz attitude that immediately puts him in the crosshairs of the practical jokers on campus. What would be a humiliating ordeal to anyone else becomes a challenge for Harold to put everything he thinks he understands about college social customs into practice. That mix of spunky resilience and wide-eyed obliviousness inspires the pranksters to keep it up for the full term, convincing Harold that he's in the running for "Most Popular Student" while the entire student body snickers behind his back.
Lloyd could be quite the wise guy in films like Safety Last (1923) and Hot Water (1924) but he's all eager-to-please rube here. In fact, his need for acceptance and popularity is so great that he blows his college money treating fellow students to ice cream (clearly this is no campus that Clara Bow would attend) and 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. It would kind of sad if Harold wasn't so darned plucky. Faced with potentially demoralizing mistakes and public disasters along the way, he simply picks himself up and tries again. You can't help but root for a kid with this much college spirit, even if he wastes it all on simply being the most popular guy on campus. But the bubble inevitably pops, of course, and his last chance to redeem his image is to play in the big game and become a football hero. This is your basic tale of underdog triumphant so it's no spoiler to say that there's a happy ending in it for our aspiring college hero, or that he will make all sorts of comic gaffs on his way victory. What's unexpected is that Lloyd and his team of gag artists don't parody the success story clichés along the way, they affirm them. Becoming "Most Popular" isn't a distraction from college, it's the point of, as far as this film is concerned.
The Freshman lacks the high stakes of Keaton's comedies and the pathos of Chaplin's struggles but it doesn't lack for comic invention or filmmaking polish. Longtime Lloyd collaborators Sam Taylor and Fred C. Newmeyer direct and his regular writing team (Taylor, Ted Wilde, John Grey, and Tim Whelan) provide the story, gags and titles, but this is Lloyd's production down the line and he lavishes all the time and money necessary to perfect every gag. The campus backgrounds are filled with students, the big dance has Lloyd maneuvering through throngs of couples while quite literally tearing his suit apart (a hilarious sequence that builds to a predictable yet comically perfect gag finale), and the big game looks like it was shot at a real championship match. Throughout it all, every last extra seems to hit their marks and react on cue.
The Freshman is as big and complicated a production as any silent comedy but it's so smoothly directed and centered around Lloyd in every scene that it doesn't feel sprawling. The focus remains on Harold and, to a lesser extent, on Peggy (Jobyna Ralston), the daughter of his boarding house matron and the girl Harold really likes, if only he'd stop trying to impress the cool kids long enough to realize it. Ralston is Lloyd's regular screen partner and while she leaves the funny stuff to Lloyd here, playing the good-hearted girl with the same small-town integrity that defines Harold, she has proven to be a fine comic match as a savvy urban young woman in Hot Water and the worldly professional to Lloyd's pompous rube in Girl Shy. The sweetest scenes in The Freshman are between Lloyd and Ralston, meeting cute over a crossword puzzle on the train and falling into such natural rhythm as she sews up a ripped shirt and he nods his head back with every tug of the needle.
Harold Lloyd preserved all of his pictures and his estate continued the practice after his death, so when UCLA restored The Freshman in 1998 they had fine materials to work with. Criterion's release is mastered in 4k from the 1998 restoration and it is a stunning-looking disc, far more crisp and clean and sharp than we expect to see from silent movies. The bright, snappy new score is composed and conducted by Carl Davis and performed by the Chamber Orchestra of London. It has jazz-age energy and collegiate rah-rah feel and matches the era and Lloyd's energy marvelously. The recording is brassy and bright.
The three accompanying shorts, all newly restored, are a reminder of how much Lloyd evolved by the time he turned to features. In these three shorts--The Marathon (1919), An Eastern Westerner (1920) and High and Dizzy (1920), the latter two directed by slapstick legend Hal Roach--he's a real smart-aleck, arrogant and rude and at times a complete jerk. High and Dizzy (1920), Lloyd's second "thrill" comedy short, is the most famous of the three and it offers up the urban wise-guy version of "the glasses character." It casts Lloyd as a young doctor fresh out of medical school with no patients, but that set-up gives way to an extended drunk act (thanks to a still in a nearby office) for the most of the 27-minute comedy, a series of stand-alone gags that ultimately sends him stumbling along the ledge of a high rise apartment building behind a sleepwalking girl. There's nothing organic in the construction of the short, just an anything-for-a-laugh aesthetic that defined the early slapstick era and the professional polish Roach and Lloyd brought to their films. The Marathon features a new piano score by Gabriel Thibaudeau and An Eastern Westerner and High and Dizzy feature new orchestral scores by Carl Davis.
The film features commentary by director and Harold Lloyd archivist Richard Correll, film historian Richard Bann, and film critic Leonard Maltin, and you can see an on-camera introduction to The Freshman that Lloyd filmed for the 1966 compilation film Harold Lloyd's Funny Side of Life, followed by a clip-reel from the film. The disc also features Harold Lloyd: Big Man on Campus (a new visual essay on the film's locations by Lloyd author John Bengtson), a conversation between Lloyd archivist Richard Correll and film historian Kevin Brownlow, footage from a 1963 Delta Kappa Alpha tribute to Lloyd featuring comedian Steve Allen, director Delmer Daves, and actor Jack Lemmon, and Lloyd's 1953 appearance on the television show What's My Line?, plus a booklet featuring an essay by critic Stephen Winer.
by Sean Axmaker
The Freshman on Criterion DVD and Blu-ray
The Freshman (1925)
Safety Last! (1923) is probably Lloyd's best-known film, mainly because of the indelible image of our hero hanging precariously from the hands of a giant clock. But the biggest moneymaker of Lloyd's career was easily The Freshman (1925), a college football comedy that wraps up with some improbable heroics at a big game. In fact, The Freshman was one of the major financial successes of the silent era, and it still drew audiences years later when it became a popular feature at college campuses across the country.
In The Freshman, Lloyd plays Harold Lamb, a bespectacled go-getter who heads off to college thinking his experiences will be just like the ones he saw in a college-based movie. He even learns a little jig that he saw in the picture, imagining that it will make him one of the more popular guys on campus. Unfortunately, reality intrudes, and Harold finds himself being laughed at by the other students. He decides to re-invent himself yet again, by trying out for the football team. But he evolves into more of a tackling dummy than a real player. Luckily, he gets a chance to set things straight, and even win the affection of the girl he loves (Jobyna Ralston), by starring in a climactic game that was partially filmed during a real contest at Pasadena's Rose Bowl!
Now, about those glasses: A 1995 article in the Journal of the American Optometric Association by Byron Y. Newman, O.D. is actually titled, "Harold Lloyd, the Man Who Popularized Eyeglasses in America." How's that for getting to the point? Newman wrote: "For optometrists in the 1920s, (Lloyd) was the man who popularized the use of glasses, especially horn-rimmed glasses, to a population who resisted the use of spectacles. Suddenly, there he was on the silent screen, demonstrating for all to see that the wearing of eyeglasses added to one's personality." Lloyd broke the mold for screen comedians when, in 1917, he devised "the glasses character," as he liked to call the protagonist of The Freshman and so many other films. Before Lloyd, popular comics wore overtly theatrical costumes and some form of outlandish makeup when working in films. But, outside of the glasses, Lloyd looked like any other Joe on the street. He was especially pleased that this allowed him to change the attitudes of his signature character from film to film, a stunt that even Keaton and Chaplin had trouble managing. By standing out less as a physical presence, Lloyd was capable of inhabiting a somewhat broader range of roles than his illustrious peers.
Lloyd chose the horn-rims because they had become a bit of a fad among the young. He felt that the suggestion of vibrancy and youth suited the kind of character he was imagining. After shopping around for a while, he eventually found the perfect pair of rims at an optical shop on Spring Street in Los Angeles. The first set, which cost him 75 cents, managed to last for a year and a half. After vainly trying to patch them up himself for several months, Lloyd wound up sending them to Optical Products Corporation, which sent back his un-used check and a box containing 20 pairs of frames. They couldn't imagine taking money from the man who had given them such an unexpected economic boost.
The Freshman made a surprise return to the entertainment pages in 2000, when Lloyd's granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd Hayes, sued the makers of Adam Sandler's The Waterboy (1998) for stealing elements from her grandfather's picture. The courts eventually ruled against Hayes, but, more significantly, the lawsuit gave writers across the country a reason to type "Adam Sandler" and "Harold Lloyd" in the same sentence. Now, if the Laurence Olivier estate would only sue Keanu Reeves...
Directors: Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor
Producer: Harold Lloyd
Screenplay: John Grey, Sam Taylor, Tim Whelan, Ted Wilde (Harold Lloyd, uncredited) Cinematography: Walter Lundin
Editor: Allen McNeil
Cast: Harold Lloyd (The Freshman), Jobyna Ralston (Peggy), Brooks Benedict (The College Cad), James Anderson (The College Hero), Hazel Keener (The College Belle), Joseph Harrington (The College Tailor), Pat Harmon (The Football Coach).
by Paul Tatara
The Freshman (1925)
The football scenes were shot at the Berkeley Bowl between the first and second quarters of the East-West game of 1924-25.
Some of the football scenes were reused by Preston Sturges in his 1947 film Sin of Harold Diddlebock, The (1947).
This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1990.
Harold Lloyd originally began production with the football scenes, filming at the Rose Bowl. However, he couldn't achieve the right tone for these final scenes, and he decided to start over again and shoot the film in sequence.
A print of The Freshman was restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive in 2002. At that time, a new score was written for the film by Carl Davis. Modern sources include Gus Leonard, Oscar Smith and Charles A. Stevenson in the cast.
Released in United States 1925
Released in United States July 1984
Released in United States November 1992
Selected in 1990 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Released in United States 1925
Released in United States November 1992 (Shown in Los Angeles November 20-21, 1992.)
Released in United States July 1984 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (50 Hour Sports Movie Marathon) July 5-20, 1984.)