11 August 2008

The Freshman (1925)

d. Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor / USA / 76 mins.

Although one of the better known silent films, The Freshman is the weakest of Harold Lloyd's "big four" silent movies (the other three being Safety Last!, Girl Shy, and The Kid Brother). Lloyd stars as Harold Lamb, a na├»ve student gone off to his first year of college and unwittingly becomes the butt of his peers' jokes. He's eager to please, but he's oblivious and also a bit of a klutz – so, you know, that's funny, I guess.

In reality the gags are quite tame (and quite lame) even for the standards of the 1920s: Harold becomes a stand-in dummy for the football team to practice tackling, and he and his tailor struggle to keep an unfinished suit from falling apart while at a campus dance. Again, the inevitable comparison to Buster Keaton comes to mind because Keaton was doing everything Lloyd was doing, but Keaton was doing it better, sharper, and funnier. Lloyd's Safety Last!, made two years earlier, was a film similarly lame in its construction and its jokes, but it had the spectacular stunt at the end of Lloyd scaling a downtown building and famously hanging from the minute hand of a giant clock. This film has no breathtaking stunt sequence anywhere, and ultimately it ends as it began: quite plainly.


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