The Criterion Blogathon: The Freshman (1925)

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When I think of a lovable underdog, I think of Harold Lloyd.

Since the days of silent film, Lloyd pioneered the future of American comedy alongside the likes of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Bespectacled in round, horn-rimmed glasses and topping his look with a crisp, straw boater, Harold Lloyd was poised to make and star in some of the greatest silent films.

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1925’s The Freshman is one of Lloyd’s most beloved and enduring films. The IMDB description for this film is simple: “Nerdy college student will do anything to become popular on campus.” Interesting? Yes. Relatable? Oh, yes. Revolutionary? And how!

In an interview for Parade, Lloyd’s granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd, offers the following:

You know, they never wanted him to make it. They thought it was insane to make it. He said, “I’m going to make this movie.” They said, “Harold, number one, women don’t want to see football. Guys go to football games. Women stay at home. They’re not fans. They’re not going to go into a theater on a date to see a football game.” So Harold said, “Well, it’s about college and I want to make this.”

And so he did. Credited as being the first sports movie produced, Lloyd originally began production with the football scenes, filming at the Rose Bowl. However, he was not satisfied with the emotional tone for these final scenes, so he decided to start over and shoot the film in sequence.

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He said that he had to see where the character was coming from before he shot the game because he needed to know how the character would act in the game, shares Suzanne. So they dumped all that footage and went back and started shooting the movie. 

In response, Harold Lloyd stepped into the shoes of his character, Harold “Speedy” Lamb. (Yes, Harold often plays a Harold in his films, emphasizing a unique brand of honesty between character and self.) Lamb possesses a romanticized view of college life, and like Lloyd, is deeply influenced by film. In fact, when Lamb sees the fictitious film The College Hero, he adopts the name of the film’s protagonist, Speedy. Dreaming of emulating the film, Lamb aspires to become the campus hero through becoming a football star and adopting Speedy’s mannerisms—despite the fact that he knows nothing about football.

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Once Lamb arrives at Tate College, he swiftly meets many stock characters that pair with college life. There’s a football coach, college belle, college hero, college cad, a rare instance of a college tailor, and even an angry dog (portrayed by Pete the Pup). Yes, that Petey of Our Gang fame.

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And then there’s the girl of his dreams.

As Lamb devotes himself to this façade, he meets Peggy, who encounters him between metaphorical masks. Peggy is portrayed by Jobyna Ralston, who starred as Lloyd’s leading lady in several of his films. Throughout this particular film, Peggy observes Lamb from a distance, possessing a quiet sense of leadership, as he falls victim to false friendships. She supports Lamb when the going gets rough, believes in him when no one else does, and is an altogether separate and unscheduled victory for him.

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This aspect of romance in the film adds a new appeal to what could easily have been coined a mere “football film.” The introduction of Peggy weaves in a new empathy for Lamb’s character. As the film progresses, one roots for Lamb to win Peggy’s love while he also works to find his niche on the football team. Yet, somehow, Lamb finds himself in a tricky pattern: any victory with Peggy fuels his victories on the college social scene, but it is the college social scene that drives him away from Peggy. Such is the case in reality: the more one disguises oneself, the more one disguises one’s most distinguishing attributes—for better or worse.

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It’s the first movie made about football, and they thought he was totally nuts, muses Suzanne. And then, after it was released, everybody put out movies about football. There were three movies made with football in them. After The Freshman, they made eight in two years.

Lloyd was a comic genius ahead of his time. A king of physicality, his characters are some of the most relatable ones to exist in American cinema. Audience members can find pieces of themselves in each one of Lloyd’s manifestations. As we cheer Lloyd on, in a way, we cheer for ourselves as he progresses through familiar moments of longing, laughter, loss, and love. Suzanne reflects:

I think, emotionally to him, since he never went to college (he just got through high school), he loved doing this movie because it was a college experience for him. It was really a favorite of his.

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When it comes to propelling oneself towards a lasting legacy in American cinema, step right up and call Lloyd “Speedy!”

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This post is part of the Criterion Blues’ Blogathon, entitled, “The Criterion Blogathon.” To access more information and read accompanying posts, please click on the following picture:

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22 Responses to The Criterion Blogathon: The Freshman (1925)

  1. Kristina says:

    Very nice reading of the film as well as a look at what made Lloyd so likable and relatable. Interesting to read the doubts about the subject and how it ended up kicking off a trend! Thanks so much for contributing this to the blogathon!

  2. aaronwest says:

    Yes, excellent post. I love his self-deprecating and endearing humor, and I agree that he is a comic genius. He is still accessible to modern audiences, which speaks volumes for a silent film. Thanks for participating!

  3. I watched Harold Lloyd comedy shorts when I was a kid, and have loved his work ever since. Strangely enough, I’ve never seen ‘The Freshman’, but your review has me excited to track it down and finally give it a look. So thanks, and thanks for a fun review!

  4. Thank you for the insight from his granddaughter. I love this film and I’m a guy that HATES football!

  5. This is such an endearing film, I always want to do his “handshake” with someone. Charming post!

  6. My heart goes out to Harold as “The Freshman”. He truly knew his audience and it is wonderful that that audience is still growing today.

  7. Harold Lloyd is utterly fab in everything. Like you said, he was a comic genius ahead of his time. I agree with your point that when we cheer for Harold, we’re cheering for ourselves.

    Wonderful post. Thanks so much for bringing Mr Lloyd to the Criterion party!

  8. Nicole says:

    Oh, this is charming! I especially love how you included Suzanne Lloyd’s words along with your own. It’s nice to get that bit of perspective.

  9. Kelly says:

    I’ve never liked Lloyd quite as much as Keaton (I think everyone has their favorite among the big three), but he’s still pretty cool in my book.

  10. pioneer14 says:

    From Zero to Hero…Thoroughly enjoyed this film and even practiced writing about it when I was just starting my blog. Great presentation and visuals.

  11. says:

    Wonderful review! Indeed, Harold Lloyd is likeable and sweet in all the movies I’ve seen him in. I love The Freshman, and it was nice to read what Suzanne had to say about the making off this film. Congratulations!
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂
    Cheers!
    Le
    http://www.criticaretro.blogspot.com

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