Thursday, September 7, 2023

This weekend, it's 'The Freshman' in Vermont, then 'The Fire Brigade' in Somerville, Mass.

Harold Lloyd hangs on in 'The Freshman' (1925).

Football season! What better time to uncork 'The Freshman' (1925)?

Harold Lloyd's comedy about college football was his top-grossing film up to that time, and one of the major hits of the entire silent era.

We'll be screening it (and I'll be accompanying it) on Saturday, Sept. 9 at Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt.

Showtime is 7 p.m. More details in the press release below.

Also this weekend: a screening of 'The Fire Brigade' (1926), an MGM thriller that I'll be accompanying on Sunday, Sept. 10 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass. (More about that in a future post.)

I have a fondness for 'The Freshman' that predates my time as a silent film accompanist.

In 1993, at the time of Harold's 100th birthday, celebrations included a major retrospective at the Film Forum in New York City. (Yikes! I wasn't yet 30 years old!)

We were hosting a visitor from Russia at the time. It was his first trip ever outside what until recently had been the Soviet Union. We were visiting New York at the time the Lloyd films were running. 

Hey, what more American thing to do than to bring a Russian guy to a Harold Lloyd film?

And so we did. It happened to be 'The Freshman' (1925), with piano accompaniment by the Film Forum's longtime accompanist Steve Sterner.

I knew it would be fun. But I wasn't prepared for how 'The Freshman' absolutely took over the theater. Once the film got going, the laughs built fast until—well, it became one of the three greatest audience experiences I've ever been a part of.

(The other two: a screening of 'Duck Soup' (1933) at the old Metro on New York's upper West Side back when I was at Fordham, and then later the stage musical version of 'The Producers' in London.)

Will Saturday's screening of 'The Freshman' produce the same result? Only one way to find out—come join us and be a part of the experience.

Press release below. See you in Brandon!

*   *   *

Harold Lloyd and Jobyna Ralston in 'The Freshman' (1925).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Silent film classic 'The Freshman' on Saturday, Sept. 9 at Town Hall in Brandon, Vt.

Celebrate football season with Harold Lloyd's comic masterpiece about college life, with live music

BRANDON, Vt.—What happens when a first-year student's dreams of college collide with the realities of campus life?

The result is Harold Lloyd in 'The Freshman' (1925), one of the most popular comedies of the silent film era. Filled with classic scenes and a great story, 'The Freshman' endures as one of Lloyd's most crowd-pleasing movies.

See for yourself with a screening of 'The Freshman' (1925) on Sept. 9; kick-off time is 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7, in Brandon, Vt.

All are welcome to this family-friendly movie. Admission is free, with free will donations accepted in support of ongoing Town Hall renovations.

The screening, the latest in the venue's silent film series, will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent films.

"Put the whole experience back together, and you can see why people first fell in love with the movies," Rapsis said.

'The Freshman,' the most successful film of Lloyd's career, was an enormous box office smash. Its release sparked a craze for college films that lasted well beyond the 1920s, and even a popular hit song, the collegiate fox trot "Freshie."

The story follows Lloyd, small town newbie, to Tate College, where he hopes to achieve fame as Big Man on Campus. Instead, his quest to win popularity becomes a humiliating college-wide joke, with Harold getting tricked by upperclassmen into hosting the school's annual "Fall Frolic" at his own expense.

Realizing he's an outcast, Lloyd decides he can make his mark on the college football team, where he holds the lowly position of waterboy and serves as tackling dummy. On the day of the Big Game, can the bespectacled "freshie" somehow save the day and bring gridiron glory to dear old Tate?

For football fans, the film's climactic game sequence was shot on the field at the actual Rose Bowl in 1924. The crowd scenes were shot at halftime at California Memorial Stadium during the November 1924 "Big Game" between UC Berkeley and Stanford University. Other exterior scenes were filmed near the USC campus in Los Angeles.

Beyond its comic appeal, 'The Freshman' today has acquired an additional layer of interest in its depiction of college life in the 1920s—a time of raccoon coats, ukeleles, and many other long-gone fads and fashions.

"It was long before television, the Internet, cellphones, or Facebook," said Rapsis. "To us today, it looks like college on another planet, which I think adds to the appeal of a film like 'The Freshman.' "

"But at its core, 'The Freshman' is still a great story about people, and that's why it remains such an entertaining experience today, especially when shown as Lloyd intended it," Rapsis said.

In 1990, 'The Freshman' was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant," named in only the second year of voting and one of the first 50 films to receive such an honor.

Lloyd, along with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, is recognized as one of the silent screen's three great clowns. Lloyd's character, a young go-getter ready to struggle to win the day, proved hugely popular in the 1920s. While Chaplin and Keaton were always critical favorites, Lloyd's films reigned as the top-grossing comedies throughout the period.

Despite the passage of time, audiences continue to respond just as strongly as when the films were new, with features such as 'The Freshman' embraced as timeless achievements from the golden era of silent film comedy.

Critics review 'The Freshman':

"Regarded as the quintessential Harold Lloyd vehicle.”
—TV Guide

"Gag for gag, Lloyd was the funniest screen comic of his time. Passionately recommended. "
—Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

The screening of 'The Freshman' is sponsored by local residents Frank Mazza and Linda Zaragoza; Kathy and Wayne Rausenberger; and Edward Loedding and Dorothy Leysath.

Upcoming programs in the Brandon Town Hall's silent film series include:

• Saturday, Oct. 7, 7 p.m.: 'My Best Girl' (1927) starring Mary Pickford, Charles 'Buddy' Rogers. In a big city department store, romance blossoms between a humble stockroom clerk and the store owner's son—who is already engaged! A sparkling “rich man, poor girl” romantic comedy from 1927 starring screen icon Mary Pickford and Charles 'Buddy Rogers,' her future real-life husband. Sponsored by Harold and Jean Somerset; Fyles Brothers, Inc.; and Jeanette Devino.

• Friday, Oct. 27, 7 p.m.: 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927). Can a group of distant relatives survive the night in a haunted house to learn the secret of a madman's will? Find out in the original Gothic thriller from silent film director Paul Leni. Just in time for Halloween, a movie filled with deep shadows, dark secrets, and a surprisingly timeless mix of humor and horror that will keep you guessing. Sponsored by Pam and Steve Douglass.

• Saturday, Nov. 11, 7 p.m.: 'The Big Parade' (1925) starring John Gilbert. We salute Veterans Day with this sweeping saga about U.S. doughboys signing up and shipping off to France in 1917, where they face experiences that will change their lives forever—if they return. MGM blockbuster directed by King Vidor; one of the biggest box office triumphs of the silent era. Sponsored by Donald and Dolores Furnari; Jeanette Devino; and Lorrie Byrom.

Head back to school with ‘The Freshman’ (1925), to be shown with live music by Jeff Rapsis on Saturday, Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7, in Brandon, Vt.

Admission is free, with free will donations accepted in support of ongoing Town Hall renovations. For more info, visit

Harold Lloyd and Jobyna Ralston in 'The Freshman' (1925).

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