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Blu-ray Review: ‘The Freshman’ (1925) – The Criterion Collection

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As I had iterated a while back with the two blogcritics readers who regularly read my drivel, silent film comedian/daredevil Harold Lloyd and his mostly incredible work have been mostly obscured throughout the years by the passing of time. But recent endeavors on the behalf of Lloyd’s estate and the folks at The Criterion Collection have initiated a possible method of bringing the faded star back into our lives.

Last year, in 2013, Criterion released a marvelous presentation of the 1923 jawdropper Safety Last!, one of Lloyd’s most famous (or at least certainly iconic) creations. This year, Criterion continues their project with 1925’s The Freshman – a film that proved to be Lloyd’s biggest box-office hit in addition to being one of the biggest films of the 1920s. It also inspired a wave of college-themed comedies, from which we are still witnessing the effects of to this day. And, while the sight of Lloyd hanging helplessly from the face of a clock with an entire bustling urban setting beneath is nowhere to be found here, The Freshman has its own way of capturing our hearts.

the-freshman-1925-blu-ray-review-blogcriticsOnce again directed by the pairing of Sam Taylor and Fred C. Newmeyer, The Freshman (not to be confused with that Matthew Broderick/Marlon Brando flick – though I enjoyed that one, too) depicts the plight of a hapless rural bumpkin who is enrolls at Tate University in the city. Taken in by a recent motion picture perhaps a bit too far, and does his very best as emulating his fictional college idol when he first arrives, earning him the same nickname as his motion picture hero, but without all of the glamour or respect he had hoped would come with it.

Attempting to earn the admiration of his quick-to-sneer peers, Lloyd soon becomes the campus clown without fully knowing it. But things aren’t all bad – as our poor dolt of a hero instantly wins over the heart of the one girl (Jobyna Ralston) in the entire city who sees and begins to fall for what he really is: a lovable silly guy with a heart of gold.

Highlights of this comedy include an inspired scene at a party (held by Lloyd’s character as he tries to win some popularity the easy way). Through the fault of fate, his tailored tuxedo is left unfinished, being held together only by easily-undone basting stitches. As his suit begins to fall apart with every movement, his dozy and somewhat drunken tailor (Joseph Harrington) hides in the wings of the party, needle and thread in hand. Did I mention he’s dozy and drunken? Yeah, you can imagine how that pays off. In fact, a lot of other writers re-imagined the same scene in future comedies of the ’30s and ’40s, including (for one) Clyde Bruckman (not to be confused with the fictional X-Files character of the same name) when he penned the 1942 Three Stooges short, Three Smart Saps.

Also on parade here is Lloyd’s memorable effort at trying out for the college football team, only to be used as a human tackling dummy – a tortuous stuntman-less segment that gives way for an equally incredible sporting finale that no doubt served as inspiration for another epic ending, that of the 1932 Marx Brothers classic, Horse Feathers. Now tack on the fact that Lloyd actually shot the film in sequence and you can’t help but admire the outcome of this AFI favorite, which was selected in the ’90s by the National Film Registry as one to preserve.

The latest restored version of The Freshman appears here in Criterion’s Blu-ray/DVD Combo. Combining elements from the original theatrical version along with footage from a foreign release version (which was shot simultaneously from a slightly different angle), this Freshman presents us with a transfer that is nothing short of beautiful. The image is very crisp and clear of debris overall, boasting image stability improvements which prevent the film from achieving that classic shaky look films of the era are so well-known for today. Certain scenes have been tinted for this release. The audio for this Blu-ray boasts a LPCM 2.0 track, which includes a new orchestrated score by Carl Davis.

Criterion goes the extra yard (sports analogy) with the inclusion of three classic Harold Lloyd shorts here, The Marathon (1919), An Eastern Westerner and High and Dizzy (both 1920). These shorts have also been restored for this home video release, and the latter two include new orchestral scores by the aforementioned Mr. Davis, while The Marathon includes a piano score by Gabriel Thibaudeau.

Also on the bench (another sports analogy – look I’m not athletic in the least bit, so I have to point ‘em out, alright?!) are an audio commentary for the feature film (by Lloyd archivist Richard Correll, historian Richard Bann, and critic Leonard Maltin) and an archival introduction to the film by Mr. Lloyd himself (as taken from Harold Lloyd’s Funny Side of Life, a 1966 look at the comedian’s works, from which another clip is also culled); a visual essay entitled Harold Lloyd: Big Man on Campus (the subtitle of which is not to be confused with that awful late ’80s comedy of the same name).

Mr. Correll returns for a conversation with film historian Kevin Brownlow. This is followed by footage from a 1963 tribute to the Mr. Lloyd, as performed by Delmer Daves, Steve Allen, and Jack Lemmon (and introduced by Gloria Swanson). The Criterion Collection package is wrapped up with a 1953 clip from What’s My Line? featuring Harold Lloyd as the mystery guest, and an illustrated booklet featuring an essay by Stephen Winer.

Highly recommended.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.