THE FRESHMAN (1925)
While there has been an ongoing debate about whom is the better filmmaker- Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton- a third silent comedian has gone largely unnoticed. Harold Lloyd- known primarily as the bespectacled young man hanging off the face of a clock- was the most prolific comedy star of the silent era. He made more films than the other two and outsold them by a substantial margin. Over the years, however, people have come to think of Lloyd as grossly inferior to the two Silent Comedy titans. While I would agree that this is true as far as filmmaking ability, I would argue that, in the area of relatability and pathos, Lloyd held his ground. While Chaplin dabbled in magical melodrama and Keaton in emotionless experiments, Lloyd gave us believable characters in familiar situations. Lloyd's ability to gain the audience's sympathy for his lead character gave the gags and comedic setpieces actual weight. Never is this more clear than in The Freshman, in which Lloyd plays a naive young man in his first year of college. In the film, Harold gets into one embarassing scrape after another, making us laugh in discomfort and empathy. He deeply desires acceptance, but only receives ridicule. In the humor, there is an inherent sadness that more than matches the overwrought emotions of Chaplin. And, yet, in his understanding of the mechanics of comedy, Lloyd was able to rival Keaton. While Lloyd's films are not as groundbreaking and technically impressive as those of Keaton and Chaplin, we are still able to enjoy them on a basic, human level, where the laughs- as well as the tears- are earned through shared experience.