Today is the anniversary of the release date of Harold Lloyd’s feature length comedy The Freshman (1925).
The Freshman is up there with Safety Last as being one of Lloyd’s most lasting, definitive statements. The plot concerns Harold’s first year at college and his attempts to make good on the football team. Personally, it’s hard for me not to find his primary goal—belonging, conformity—somewhat unworthy. But it matters so much to Harold, and he is such a schlub, that you can’t help having sympathy. Lloyd even attempts (for the one and only time) moments of Chaplinesque pathos in this movie. Harold’s girl learns the students have been making fun of him and she tells him so. Harold puts on a brave face at first and then cries, and we can’t help feeling for him. “Make them like you for what you really are,” she tells him. This message would have redeemed the film morally in my eyes if it had been carried through the picture, but then it gets abandoned.
Because what ends up happening is Harold redeems himself by winning the big football game. Tenaciousness wins the day. But the message remains one of social conformity. But yet again — that may be why it was and is one of Lloyd’s most successful pictures with the public. It’s also, not incidentally, a really good movie.
To learn more about comedy film history including great Harold Lloyd movies like The Freshman, please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc