Going To School With Harold Lloyd in “The Freshman”
Lloyd stars in the enduring and entertaining college film — one of the first of its kind
The Criterion Collection is a distribution company that specializes in “important” classic and contemporary films. Through Hulu, many of these films are made available to stream. Once a week, I like to illuminate a Criterion movie — to deepen one’s understanding of filmmaking and film history. This week’s movie: “The Freshman” (1925)
With fall approaching rapidly, a new school year is upon us. Late August is around the time when summer drags on and school, for at least a week, becomes the exciting part of a student’s day. For another look into the Criterion Collection’s catalogue, it seemed only right to pick a film revolving around going to school.
Like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd was a comedy star that rose from film’s silent era. Through my experiences, Lloyd tends to be the one left out of conversations — with Chaplin and Keaton dominate. All three dominated the 1920s of film with their comedic short films and feature films. While Chaplin and Keaton can attest to many “film firsts”, it was Harold Lloyd who ushered a new type of film: the college film.
In 1925, The Freshman was released, instantly become a popular hit. Starring Harold Lloyd, among Jobyna Ratson and James Anderson, the film tells the simple tale of young Harold Lamb going through his first year at college. His experiences making friends, studying and, famously, joining the football team provided a storyline that was relatable to young college students and repeatable for countless other college films to come. But it was Lloyd’s talent as an actor and his sincerity with his “glasses character” — one that appear in his other films of the 1920s — that had endured, making The Freshman one of Harold Lloyd’s most memorable films.
Harold Lamb is a naïve, but excited, in-coming freshman to Tate University. His college knowledge comes from a movie he has seen and studied, believing college was just like the movies. Lamb quickly finds out that is not how the real world works. People come from different backgrounds and experiences; they are not stereotypical characters from a movie. Alone and confused, Lamb has to deal with these unwanted and new emotions. He joins the football team, as a water-boy, and falls in love with a student named Peggy. Throughout the film, Lamb grows from a naïve college kid to a smarter and more well-rounded person.
The story is simple, which is what is expected of the comedy films of the 1920s. Though there is a lot of emotion and thought in what is happening, the events that move the plot are, sort of, predictable. But, for me, that is not a problem. College, in the grand scheme of things, is a predictable place. You enter like Lamb does — naïve and with predetermined ideas of what college is like. As you live through the experience, you mold into someone new — whether that bad or good.
In The Freshman, the iconic plot points of college films to come are born. The main character goes through adversary with a stronger, more alpha oriented person. Lamb’s main rival is star of the football team; it does not get more alpha than that. The main character experiences a strong love interesting, which happens quickly on the train to Tate University. Lastly, the main character deals with something going wrong and battles their way through adversary. In the film, Lamb is picked to “host” the annual fall dance, where his suit easily falls apart due to poor tailoring.
Like Chaplin and Keaton films, the events portrayed in their movies are meant to be relatable, even if a tad predictable. Their goal was not to explore in-depth storytelling. They wanted to entertain.
Lloyd’s comedic sense rivals that of Keaton and Chaplin. He has the perfect charm to get you to invest in his character. You laugh at his misfortune (among many other occasions), yet come away still liking the guy. You wince at the awkwardness of the beginning of his college career, where he acts as if everyone is friendly and starring in a movie. Unlike anything I have ever seen before, you know where his fate is headed — but you still care about his well-being. You root for success, knowing its coming down the line. This feat is accomplished by the ability of Lloyd to transform into your best friend on screen.
The scope is not nearly as large as other Lloyd films — there’s no hanging from a clock in this film. Mostly taking place on a college campus, the sets are simple. Yet, as always with film or TV, filming sports scenes can be tricky. How do you film the action? How do you realistically convey and showcase a crowd? The Freshman handles both those questions well. Mostly, the actual game is shot without a crowd in the background. The camera is looking down onto the field of play — slightly higher than the level of their heads. There are a few cuts of crowds put into the scenes of football. Overall, The Freshman handles the only real action scene effectively. The viewer is not taken aback by how unrealistic the football game might have been portrayed.
If you are moving in this weekend to your new college dorm or apartment, and have a spare 70 minutes, you might want to do some early studying of college life through The Freshman. If nothing else, you will get some genuine laughs and an exciting game of football.