Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Silence, Part 1: The Freshman (1925)

When a silent film catches the attention (and heart) of a modern viewer (in this case, me), it's a special little phenomenon - sort of like time travel. And while culture certainly changes over time, "good" is "good," regardless of your perspective. So when I see a silent movie I like, or don't have anything else to talk about, I'll review it in this "Silence" series.

Since I'm not a fan (at all) of college comedies or football, I'm surprised at how much I enjoyed Harold Lloyd's 1925 film The Freshman. It was my first experience with Lloyd, and I'll have to watch more of his films, but I'm almost ready to call him the equal or superior of Charlie Chaplin when it comes to clever physical comedy.

The hapless Lloyd (whose character has the name Harold Lamb, who was a prolific writer of historical action fiction at the time) arrives at Tate University, desperately wanting to be popular. He mimics the behavior of "The College Hero," from a favorite film of his, and takes the name Speedy. A prankster gets the whole university in on a joke - they treat Lloyd as if he is the popular fellow he wants to be, but make fun of him behind his back. The naive and gentle-spirited Lloyd is, of course, oblivious. While courting his landlady's daughter (who likes him for who he is), he tries out for the football team. He fails miserably, but does manage to get a job as the tackling dummy, then the water boy. The joke is exposed during the Fall Frolic dance, when Lloyd shows up with an ill-tailored suit that keeps falling apart. The tailor is on hand to make surreptitious repairs during the dance, resulting in some of the best physical comedy I've ever seen. Eventually, Lloyd gets incensed when the prankster gets too friendly with the hatcheck girl - the landlady's daughter.

In revenge, the prankster tells Lloyd he's been the subject of a huge joke, and that everyone actually thinks he's (what we would today call) a big nerd. The hatcheck girl tells him to be himself, and cheers him  up a bit. But he's still determined to prove himself to everyone. He gets his chance in the Big Game against another university, whose footballers are so tough, they knock out almost everyone on the team. Lloyd, the water boy, finally gets his chance. He rallies the team and leads them on to victory - not through any athletic prowess, but in a series of tightly shot, well-choreographed, and clever tricks that win the day. In the end, he gets the popularity he wanted by being himself, and he gets the girl.

This set the template for about a thousand other college movies that followed, and remained one of Harold Lloyd's top films. Lloyd himself has a ton of charisma, and I'll have to check out more of his movies.

In a final note only Colin Lee Campbell will get - check out the "college beanie" in the top photo...

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