Another September 29 is upon us which means that it is National Silent Movie Day! 2022 is the second official year of this film event. This year, I opted to watch The Freshman starring the hilarious Harold Lloyd. Lloyd is someone who is often remembered alongside Charles Chaplin and Buster Keaton, but I always feel like he’s mentioned as an afterthought, like “the greatest silent film comedians were Chaplin and Keaton… and I guess we can throw Lloyd in there too.” Harold Lloyd deserves to be revered just as much as Chaplin and Keaton. His “glasses” character is inventive and unique. I like Harold Lloyd’s comedy and find him a delightful middleground between the more sentimental Chaplin and the more physical Keaton. Don’t get me wrong, all three men were very skilled when it comes to physical comedy and acting; but each one is very different from the other.
The Freshman which debuted in theaters in 1925, tells the story of Harold Lamb, a young man who has saved exactly $480-something dollars (~$8100 in 2022 money) to go to college–Tate University to be specific. He saved the money selling washing machines. Harold has watched his favorite film, The College Hero, practically on a loop and has based his entire personality on the one presented in the film. He even learns the jig that The College Hero performs as part of a greeting when he meets a new person. Watching Harold execute the jig throughout the film is adorable, he looks so happy every single time he does it.
Harold rides the train to Tate University. On the train, he meets Peggy (Jobyna Ralston), a young woman also attending Tate. However, unlike Harold, she does not have a substantial savings and must work to afford the tuition. The train arrives at the station and Harold introduces himself to his new classmates, including, The College Cad (Brooks Benedict). After Harold does his jig, The College Cad laughs and makes Harold the laughingstock of the school. However, because he is so naive, Harold misinterprets his classmates’ laughter and The College Cad’s mocking as a sign that they all like him.
The College Cad eventually convinces Harold to try-out for the football team, thinking that it’d be hilarious. He isn’t selected for the team (of course), but ends up being hired to become the football team’s tackling dummy. Harold damaged the school’s only tackling dummy during his audition. The football coach loves Harold’s enthusiasm, however, but admits to the captain of the football team, Chet Trask (James Anderson) that Harold’s lack of athleticism does not make up for his positive attitude. Chet suggests to his coach that he bring Harold onto the team to be the waterboy. The coach agrees and invites Harold to join the team–except Harold thinks he’s joining as a football player.
Later, Harold is convinced to host the annual Fall Frolic dance. It’s obvious that the other students just want to use the big event to make a fool out of Harold. The Fall Frolic scene is hilarious. Harold hires a tailor to make him a new suit for the dance, but when he arrives to pick it up, he learns that the tailor is late and has only barely started sewing it together. Only a few stitches are holding the jacket and pants together. Despite the sparse stitches, Harold wears it anyway, hoping for the best. The tailor offers to follow Harold around the dance, sewing the suit together should it start to fall apart. Almost immediately, the tailor is having to sew the arms back onto Harold’s jacket.
The scene of Harold trying to stay in front of a curtain and entertain his date while the tailor works behind the curtain frantically sewing his suit together is hilarious and one of the best scenes in the film. I love the part when one of Harold’s classmates approaches him to ask for $10. Harold’s right arm is busy being repaired, so the tailor offers up his arm in place of Harold’s. The tailor’s arm (posing as Harold’s arm) reaches into Harold’s pocket and pulls out $10. While Harold is shaking hands (left hand) with his classmate, the tailor’s right hand pick-pockets the $10 out of Harold’s classmate’s pocket and puts the money back into Harold’s.
Eventually, Tate University’s football team is playing in the big game. Harold sits on the sideline, anxiously, as if to say “put me in coach, I’m ready to play.” He and another player watch as one teammate after another are knocked out of the game. The team is running out of benchwarmers and will be at risk of being disqualified from the game if they can’t meet the minimum requirement for active players on the field. Harold soon gets his big chance.
The type of comedy presented at the Fall Frolic is one of the things I love about Harold Lloyd. He has a lot of sight gags like this that are not as broadly comedic as Keaton, but are still very funny. There’s another funny scene in Safety Last! where Lloyd pretends to be an overcoat hanging on the wall. Lloyd’s character is very affable and approachable to audiences. He seems like an everyman and seems to be loving his life. He doesn’t have a stoneface like Keaton or seems like a hopeful sad sack like Chaplin’s Little Tramp. Harold Lloyd’s gags are just as well-timed and well-executed as anything Chaplin and Keaton did.
During the big football game, the audience cannot help but cheer for Harold. We don’t want to see him on the bench. We want Harold on the field, making the game-winning touchdown. Frankly, we want him to make any sort of score because in the fourth quarter the game is only at 3-0 in the opposition’s favor. Only a field goal. What a boring game! Harold’s enthusiasm and determination is contagious. This guy deserves to become his hero–The College Hero.