Movies often make us want the Impossible. But! We want the impossible delivered in a credible way.
Like Aristotle said in Poetics, his How-To for writers of drama, audiences “prefer probable impossibilities to improbable possibilities.” In other words, achieving the Impossible must be believable.
Lloyd’s character has a specific Popularity Indicator, a fellow student named Chet, a young man who is Everything Lloyd aspires to be – and makes it look easy.
Lloyd pins Chet’s photo on the wall of his dorm room, then he adds his own photo on the wall beneath it. As he perceives himself to be gaining in popularity, Lloyd moves his own photo closer to Chet’s, then beside it, then above. It’s too good to be true!
It is too good to be true. In his desperation to be admired, Lloyd has been buying his way into the Smart Set with free ice cream and lavish parties. Alas! He doesn’t realize these people are taking advantage of his generosity while laughing at him behind his back.
Another way Lloyd tries to gain prominence is by trying out for the college football team.
Unsurprisingly, he’s awful, utterly lacking in sporting ability. Yet because he’s so enthusiastic, the coach appoints him the team’s water boy – but doesn’t tell him. In so doing, he creates a new group of people to laugh at Lloyd. Get a load of the poor slob who can’t figure out why he never gets the chance to play.
This brings us to the Aristotelian dilemma of the Impossible: Not only do want Lloyd to be a Football Hero – eyeglasses and all – we want to see him score the winning touchdown in the final seconds of the Big Game.
But in order for us to suspend disbelief, there have to be a series of credible events during the game: One by one, the star players become injured and soon only Lloyd left sitting on the bench. Even then the coach refuses to put him into the game.
Lloyd finally Snaps. “You listen, now!” he says. “I wasn’t kidding! I’ve been working – and fighting – just for this chance – and you’ve got to give it to me!”
The coach remains unmoved until the referee tells him to add one more player to the field or the game will be forfeited.
At last! Lloyd’s Big Chance, wherein we hope he scores the winning touchdown, while keeping his eyeglasses intact.
The round eyeglasses were Harold Lloyd’s trademark. According to Wikipedia, “His bespectacled ‘Glass’ character was a resourceful, success-seeking go-getter who matched the zeitgeist of the 1920s-era United States.”
He was already a comedic screen legend when this film was released. At 31 years of age, he looks a bit old for a college freshman, but we don’t care.
Audiences in 1925 didn’t care, either. The Freshman was Lloyd’s highest-grossing film, and it spawned a slew of college movies well into the 1930s.
It’s worth noting that, in 1990, this film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
You don’t have to be a football fan to enjoy The Freshman. In fact, we hope you’ll get the chance to see a legendary comedian in his prime.
This post is part of 1ST AND 10 BLOGATHON, hosted by Dubsism & Midnite Drive-In.
The Freshman: starring Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Brooks Benedict. Directed by Fred Newmeyer, Sam Taylor. Written by Sam Taylor, Ted Wilde, John Grey, Tim Whelan. The Harold Lloyd Corporation, 1925, B&W, 76 mins.