Harold Lloyd’s The Freshmen

Last night, we went to go see Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman at the Music Box Theatre. It was part of their 30th anniversary celebration. It was a lovely event. They tried to emulate vaudeville; originally, at first, movies, though probably more shorts, were shown between live performances. They had the Fat Babies, a great band that played1920s and 1930s music, a clown/juggler who balanced everything from an open umbrella to a ladder on his face, and then a little comedy bit with a young woman (whose name escapes me) whose exercise routine was turning into jazz dancing.

The Freshman was quite fun. It tells of a young freshman, Harold Lamb, trying to find his place in college. It’s a bit different from Safety Last; this movie was more character driven than the later. The movie largely centered around the football at the school. One of the title cards said, “Tate University- a large football stadium with a college attached.” Not once did we see any character in class or going to class. It was all about football and popularity.

I went to a Big 10 school for graduate school after spending four years at a school not exactly known for anything besides academics. It was startling to see how prevalent football culture was at this school. One game day there would be waves of red all around town. It was like the town was put on hold. People would come in from all over the area, tailgate, and basically celebrate the fact that it was football day. Even living in Chicago with many professional sports teams, this was still startling to me.

It was impossible to get tickets and the one time I went to a game, I had to buy tickets from a scalper. The game was fun but I think I was more interested in seeing the marching band than the game itself. (I much preferred ice hockey but that’s another story).

Now don’t get me wrong, my graduate school/Big 10 school had great academics and other cultural institutions. However, I do remember the tale told to me by someone who went there in the 1960s. She was talking to her friend and her boyfriend, someone who played football on the university team. When she expressed excitement for going to class, the footballer asked, “Wait, you actually like going to class?” So there’s that. (In fairness, I never experienced anything like that ever. But I also didn’t know anyone in any sports teams there).

Anyway, Harold Lamb’s college career really hinges on football success. And yes, I recognize that it was a plot device and useful to have the climax rest on the big football game. But the humor of this film resonates today because somethings really never change. Football culture at big schools was just as prevalent in 1920s as it is now.

The best scene though is unrelated to football; it involves a poorly made suit and a fancy party. So there’s that.

Anyway, here’s to the Music Box and Harold Lloyd for good times!

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