Charlie Chaplin’s onscreen persona of the Little Tramp is one of an outsider, though not always one eager to conform and join the rest of society. He often lived with a relative amount of bliss playing by his own rules, never seeming particularly concerned with what society thought of him. Buster Keaton’s roles also had a bit of rebellion in them, leaving Harold Lloyd to stand out with characters that worked hard to fit in with society. In Safety Last! he is a hardworking store clerk trying to make it in the big city, and in The Freshman he is an eager new college student trying to become the most popular kid in school.
The Freshman was the biggest box-office success in Lloyd’s career, inspiring Keaton to imitate with College the following year. Lloyd was in his 30s when he played this title character, an exuberant new student who only knows about college what he has learned from popular arts, including a book entitled Jack Merivale at College, a clear play on the real 1907 book Frank Merriwell at Yale. Harold attempts to emulate images of a popular college student named Speedy from a film he has seen, though this only brings other students to secretly ridicule him.
Only a kind girl named Peggy (Jobyna Ralston) truly appreciates Harold, and she helps him to understand that he must be himself above all else. This revelation comes amidst a fantastic comical sequence in which Harold attends a formal event with a poorly constructed suit. The other major sequence in this film is the final climactic scene on the football field. In an attempt to gain popularity, Harold joins the football team, unaware that he is merely the water boy. When all other players are out, Harold is sent into the game as a last measure, providing him an opportunity to shine. This final scene is enough for many historians to consider The Freshman to be the first sports film ever made.
The dual-format edition of The Freshman includes a Blu-ray and two DVDs, with a new 4K digital film transfer from a 1998 restoration by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and a new orchestral score composed and conducted by Carl Davis. Both formats also have all of the same special features, and the package comes with a booklet insert with an essay by critic Stephen Winer. The disc features include an audio commentary from Lloyd archivist Richard Correll, film historian Richard Bann, and film critic Leonard Maltin. There is also an introduction and other excerpts taken from the film Harold Lloyd’s Funny Side of Life (1966), three newly restored short films, and a visual essay by John Bengston on the film’s locations, and additional TV appearances and discussions about Lloyd and this film. There is so much content that it requires an entirely separate DVD disc.
Entertainment Value: 7.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 9/10
Historical Significance: 10/10
Special Features: 10/10