I was fortunate enough to have seen this film in the theater many years ago and I can owe it to this film for sparking my life-long love of the old comedies. I only recently saw it again but this time on DVD and found the film to be even better than I remembered.
For those used to seeing slapstick shorts (including those of Lloyd), this film is quite different. Instead of the focus of this film being comedy, the humor seems incidental to the story and the character development. Because of this, the first 1/4 of the movie does not have tons of laughs--because it's building and developing the story and not trying to elicit cheap laughs. However, as you watch, the humor increases and because this came as the character developed, you really find yourself hooked into caring for Harold and you are emotionally in-tune with him. So, as the movie continues, you find your heart breaking for the guy (yes, Chaplin was not the only silent comedian to use pathos). And, when the end of the picture arrives, you feel his triumph. An exquisite and highly artistic treasure.
PS--I watched the DVD with the optional commentary from Leonard Maltin et al. This REALLY improved my understanding and appreciation for the film. I rarely ever use this option, but as I was re-watching the film and since it was a silent, this option is a major plus.
Interestingly enough, Buster Keaton came out with a similar movie just a few years later (COLLEGE). However, it isn't even close to being as good as THE FRESHMAN. I love Keaton, but not this film. If you must seem one silent college picture, see THE FRESHMAN--and maybe the Marx Brothers' HORSE FEATHERS for a much stupider but terribly funny sound take on college life.
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