13 February 2003 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
He's the prettiest girl on the football team
Like quite a few other films which someone has described on the IMDb site as 'lost', 'The Sophomore' is very much among the living. I attended a public screening of this film at the American Museum of the Moving Image, on the site of Paramount's old Astoria Studio.
Despite its title, 'The Sophomore' is not a sequel to Harold Lloyd's film 'The Freshman'. But this movie is directed by the great Leo McCarey, so it automatically merits some attention ... and there are indeed some good scenes here. Eddie Quillan plays Joe, a clean-cut young man who enrols in Hanford College ... ostensibly to get an education. He asks his poor old widowed mother to scrape up the money for his college tuition, which is Strike One against this film's attempt to depict Joe sympathetically. As soon as he arrives on campus, Joe blows all his tuition money in a gambling scheme: that's Strike Two against this movie. Strike Three arrives when we realise that this is one more 'college' movie in which the only important activities are The Big Game and The Big Dance. None of these college students ever seem to care about going to class or getting an education.
After Joe loses all his money, he has to work his way through college ... which he should have done in the first place, instead of cadging from his poor old mother. He gets a job as a soda jerk in the local tuck-shop where the Hanford students hang out. Also employed there is sweet young co-ed Margie (the pretty Sally O'Neil) who is likewise working her way through college.
'The Sophomore' was released in silent and talking versions. The talkie version features a scene in which Sally O'Neil sings a song to Eddie Quillan: the song is called 'Little by Little', and I think it was written for this movie. It's a bouncy little tune, which I still hear on the radio every so often. Unfortunately, Sally O'Neil had a poor singing voice, and the sequence is filmed in a very static manner ... probably due to the unwieldy "blimped" cameras of the time. The silent version of this movie has better camera-work.
When the so-called 'college students' in this movie aren't involved in The Big Game or The Big Dance, the only thing that matters is The Big Show. Our lad Joe (classes? what classes?) joins the amateur theatricals, and he goes onstage in female costume. This college is co-ed, so why are the female roles played by male students? I found these scenes awkward, unfunny and unpleasant. Eddie Quillan should not have been allowed to wear drag on screen. He was a short and slightly-built actor with extremely delicate features, who looked somewhat girlish in male roles. Here in 'The Sophomore', when he dresses up as a girl to play a female role onstage, he calls attention to his own genuinely girlish appearance ... yet at the same time he doesn't actually pass as a girl. It's not pretty, folks.
But this is a college movie, so of course the climax of the film is The Big Game: a football match against rival college Colton. Our girl Joe ... I mean our lad Joe is too small to be a starter on the football team, but of course he ends up going into the game at the last minute. Does he win the game? I have to give Leo McCarey some credit. All through this college-based movie, McCarey manages to embrace all the rah-rah clichés of the genre ... and then at the very end of the movie he pulls a surprise. I shan't spoil it for you. But 'The Sophomore' isn't an especially good film, in either its silent or its talkie version. I'm a McCarey fan, so it pains me to rate this movie only 4 points out of 10.