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THE FRESHMAN
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Brooks Benedict, James Anderson, Pat Harmon
Directors: Fred Newmeyer, Sam Taylor
Audio: PCM Stereo
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: See Review
Length: 76 Minutes
Release Date: March 25, 2014

I’m just a regular fellow…step right up and call me Speedy!”

Film ***1/2

If the above line makes you cringe a little bit, it’s supposed to. It is spoken by Harold Lamb (Lloyd) in The Freshman as a line stolen from a movie that he THINKS will help him be popular on campus…as you may expect, it didn’t help his cause.

For those who don’t know, Harold Lloyd is considered one of the three true masters of silent comedy, alongside Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. In his day, there were years were Lloyd’s pictures earned even more than his competitors!

Whereas Chaplin had his Tramp, and Keaton his Great Stone Face, Lloyd’s on-screen persona was quite different. He was more of an affable everyman…someone you laugh WITH and not AT. He worked in films for years before coming across his trademark glasses that would give him almost equal iconic status to the other two geniuses.

And Lloyd certainly was a genius. Though Keaton offered amazing stunts in the name of comedy, Lloyd mastered a new kind of genre in the “thrill comedy”. He performed amazing stunts, to be sure, but in the name of suspense. Audiences shrieked, and not always with laughter.

The Freshman is considered by many to be Harold Lloyd’s crowning achievement. It was his most successful film, and even ended up the second highest-grossing comedy of the entire silent era. It didn’t quite have the thrills of Safety Last (our review of that Criterion release is available on this site), but it had pluck, charm, and the instincts to dive into the blossoming passion our nation had for college football.

Harold Lamb is a simple young man dreaming of college…he even has a movie idol that he mimics, down to a little jig he dances when being introduced to anyone. In this movie, I should mention, academics never come into play. College is only about sports and popularity. Come to think of it, things haven’t changed too much…

Once on campus, the eager Harold becomes the butt of everyone’s joke, but he doesn’t know it. They treat him like a big man while snickering behind his back. The only exception is the girl he meets on the train (Lloyd regular Ralston), who works in the meager boarding house where Lamb lives.

All of this culminates in two terrific sequences: one is the party Lamb throws, where his cheaply-made suit keeps coming apart, and his tailor, prone to dizzy spells, follows him around to keep him patched up.

The other is the big football game. Lamb thinks he is a reserve player (he’s merely the waterboy), but figures this is his last chance to achieve his dream of popularity. When the tough rival knocks out more than half of his team one man at a time, soon there’s no one left…the day will either be won or lost by Harold.

Well, one guess how it all turns out. This movie doesn’t take the great chances of some of Lloyd’s other works, but it delivers a funny, heartwarming, and ultimately exciting spectacle that pleased crowds in its day, and continues to do so even now.

Most of that comes down to Harold’s own kind of genius; he rarely took credit as a writer or director on his projects, but make no mistake…he was the guiding force behind the scenes. And in front of the camera, Lloyd was a better pure actor than either Chaplin or Keaton, allowing audiences a more thorough character to identify with, and more ways to react to him than just sympathy or laughter.

So, if you are unfamiliar with the works of Harold Lloyd, may I humbly recommend you seek them out? They are well worth it, and many of his films, including this one, will become favorites of yours.

Video ***1/2

For a film around 90 years old, this print looks quite remarkable. Lloyd’s estate kept control of his works, and took good care of them over the years. The black-and-white (frequently tinted) film is extremely clean; very few scratches or marks mar the experience. And even detail level is cleaner and smoother than you might expect.

Audio ***1/2

I was extremely impressed with this new music score by Carl Davis. The orchestration sounds rich and full, and very lively and entertaining throughout. There are even some clever synchronized sounds here and there to add to the comedy. Beautifully done!

Features ****

This set is loaded, starting with having a single Blu-ray disc with all the features (and two DVDs, with the features spread out).

For starters, there is a delightful commentary track hosted by Leonard Maltin and featuring Lloyd archivist Richard Correll and film historian Richard Bann. They are not only knowledgeable about Lloyd, but also clearly big fans.

There is Harold’s prologue to the 1966 re-release, which has him addressing the camera, and also showing a montage of clips from his early films. There are three newly restored Lloyd shorts, “The Marathon”, “An Eastern Westerner”, and “High and Dizzy”, all with new scores.

Big Man on Campus” takes an extensive look at the locations used in the film…I had no idea that no fewer than THREE college football stadiums were used for the finale! There is a conversation between Correll and Kevin Brownlow, and footage from a 1963 college tribute to Lloyd (also featuring Steve Allen, Jack Lemmon and Delmer Dawes).

Rounding out is Lloyd’s classic (and funny) appearance on “What’s My Line?” in 1953, and a terrific new booklet to accompany the discs.

Summary:

Harold Lloyd is one of the true geniuses of comedy, and if you need to see why, look no further than his most popular film, The Freshman. This quality Blu-ray/DVD set from Criterion is one of the year’s best.

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