Filmsite Movie Review
The Freshman (1925)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Tate University - Harold's Arrival via Train:

The opening of the Fall term at Tate University - a large football stadium with a college attached.

[Note: As with most 'college-related' films, the college experience had very little to do with academics, and much more to do with extra-curricular activities (including the primacy of sports).Many noted that there were no classroom scenes, and the film was entirely devoid of any content showing students studying or attending class.]

Beanie-wearing freshman were arriving at the school's nearby train station. The stuffy-looking, strict, and pompous Dean of the school was introduced - he had been driven to the station by his black chauffeur (Oscar Smith). He stepped out of the open car to wait for a train's arrival in order to greet some passengers:

The Dean of the College - he was so dignified he never married for fear his wife would call him by his first name.

Meanwhile, a group of frosh were being criticized by an upper-class bully, the College Cad (Brooks Benedict), noted by an inter-title: "The peril of the Freshmen - an upper class bully who made Simon Legree look like the Good Samaritan." He pointed at some of the newcomers and threatened for them to obey. He ordered them to get on their hands and knees to worship a threesome of his friends.

After being enrolled, Harold joined many other students who were college-bound to campus "on the Tate Limited." On the train in the dining car, a pleasant-looking girl named Peggy (Jobyna Ralston), was introduced: "Peggy - the kind of girl your mother must have been." She was attempting to solve a newspaper's crossword puzzle at one of the tables, when she met a train conductor friend who inquired: "Are you still helping your mother with the boarding house?" The pretty working-girl told him that she had recently been hired to work as a check-room girl at the Hotel Tate near the college, in addition to helping her mother as a maid.

The bespectacled, sweater-wearing Harold was brought to the crowded car and seated next to her, and he found himself irresistibly tempted to help provide an answer to a clue in her crossword puzzle (an increasing national fad at the time):

Harold: I think I know the word for number 19 vertical - a name for the one you love. 'Sweetheart.'
Peggy: 'Darling.'
Harold: 'Dearest.'
Peggy: 'Precious.'
Harold: 'Honeybunch.'

[Note: Two glimpses at the actual crossword puzzle showed that there was no #19 vertical, only #19 horizontal. It was only 4 spaces long, and the second letter (an H) was already filled in. The words that they proposed were completely wrong for the space allotted.]

An eavesdropping elderly woman behind them suspected they they were lovers when she heard them speaking suggestive endearments to each other, without understanding the context. She put her arms on their two shoulders and told them: "Isn't it wonderful to be in love?" Harold was so embarrassed and startled by the thought that he jumped up from the table and raced from the train car - upsetting a black waiter with a tray of food.

When the train arrived at the Tate railroad station, the naive, optimistic and eager-looking Harold, who was carrying a small suitcase, a tennis racket, a ukelele, and a few golf-clubs in a fencing foil, was overwhelmed by all the activity. He watched as Chester Trask (James Anderson), the College Hero (the 'most popular man on campus' the previous year), was mobbed by admirers and surrounded as he proceed to the campus.

Eager to please and become popular, the well-meaning and socially-ambitious Harold performed his little how-do-you-do jig (his running gag that he learned from the movie) for a second passenger who was disembarking, but was pushed to the side by a half-dozen others. Nearby, the College Bully immediately perceived Harold to be clueless, over-striving and ignorant - a ripe candidate to be exploited:

Pipe the latest sport-model Freshman with the old-fashioned trimmings - let's ride him!

At the same time, an adult passenger sat at an open train window and lit his pipe, and then haphazardly discarded his lit match onto Harold's shoulder. When he noticed a growing burn mark on the sweater, he slapped Harold's back to extinguish the flame. Harold interpreted the slap as a back-patting greeting - he turned, and reciprocally struck the back of the Dean who was standing nearby. Then, he also performed his fancy little dance, to the Dean's frowning consternation, and then with a big grin on his face extended his hand for a hand-shake:

My name's Harold Lamb - what's yours?

The Dean was unimpressed and responded: "I am the Dean of this college." Harold backed away, and collided with both the College Bully and a luggage cart. The Bully called him over: "Have you been assigned a car to take you to the college?" - and tricked Harold into thinking that the Dean's chauffeured vehicle was for him. Harold stepped into the back seat of the car with his luggage, and the chauffeur promptly stepped on the gas without looking. The Dean standing closeby lost his balance and fell to the ground.

Harold's Speech in The Tate Auditorium:

The new class of freshmen students were required to attend the Dean's welcoming ceremony in the college auditorium: "The student body was waiting to be annoyed by the Dean's opening address." Harold was driven to the rear stage entrance of the auditorium by the Dean's chauffeur, who was shocked to see him rather than the Dean. He perched himself on a small pedestal to reach for and rescue a distressed kitten stranded on an upper ledge-rafter, just as the College Cad drew open the stage curtain on him. Harold haplessly found himself on stage, expected to begin a welcome speech to the packed student assembly.

Not knowing what to do with the kitten in his hand, he stuffed it under his sweater - and the frisky animal uncomfortably crawled around. He also fell backwards onto the stage floor and crushed his ukelele. He comically gathered all of his belongings, but accidentally dumped the entire contents of his suitcase onto the floor, revealing a small pair of dumb-bells. His 'act' was met with hilarity and applause. When he exited the stage, the College Cad encouraged him to further make a fool of himself by addressing the audience with an impromptu greeting: "Aren't you going to say a few words of greeting to the students?" Harold was very reluctant and hesitant, but complied when told it would boost his popularity:

Why, every new student must make a speech - if you don't, you'll be the most unpopular man in college.

Harold wholeheartedly fell for the trick. He gathered up his nerve and approached the middle of the stage - with the kitten 'bulge' still visible under his sweater. He nervously stumbled while composing his thoughts outloud:

My friends, I am here - er - yes, there is no doubt but that I am here -- (He fumbled with the fencing foil in his hand) Yes, I repeat that I am here - er - you are here - in fact, we are all here.

The tip of his fencing epee struck an empty stage light socket and electrocuted him twice. The mother cat observed the kitten's tail sticking out of his sweater, stood up next to his leg, and loudly meowed, as the concealed kitten began to squirm around. Howls of laughter came from the students in the auditorium, as they watched Harold's awkward performance. The kitten emerged from his sweater's collar, and ran off with its mother. A note pad that Harold had brought with him fell to the floor - he had copied the tagline for his favorite film, The College Hero:

Notes from The College Hero -
"I'm just a regular fellow - step right up and call me Speedy."

He leaned back on a table, and with a flourish of his arm, announced to everyone that he had adopted the name of his hero - the film's protagonist:

I'm just a regular fellow - and I want you to step right up and call me 'Speedy'!

As Harold stepped off-stage, he was congratulated by the College Hero, Chester Trask, who extended his hand. Harold enthusiastically performed his jig for Chester and four other students before shaking their hands - he was blissfully unaware that he was fast becoming the laughing-stock of the whole school, although he believed he was being acknowledged as the new campus hero. To further impress his new-found friends, he offered them a treat of ice-cream: "Come on - I'll stand treat for some ice cream!" He led an entourage of dozens of students to the ice-cream shop - the group swelled in size and soon, the entire freshman class who had just attended his impromptu speech, joined in. The kitten and its mother followed closely behind.

Harold's Reacquaintance with Peggy:

Broke after treating everyone to ice-cream ("A day spent in spending changed Harold's plans for living quarters -- "), Harold had to search for cheaper lodging than campus housing. He rented a dusty, furnished attic room for $3 dollars a week in a boarding house close to the campus. When the landlady told him, "I'll send my daughter up to finish washing these windows while you're out to dinner," he wasn't aware that Peggy from the train was the lady's daughter. Harold removed his heavy turtleneck sweater - underneath, his shirt was ripped and covered in kitten hair.

After mending his shirt, he stood up and cleaned his dirty, grimy mirror - the circular wiping motion magically revealed his dream girl - Peggy - who was standing behind him in the reflection, carrying a pail and broom. They were overjoyed to meet again. He embellished on the reason why he had rented the room: "I - er - took this little room so I'd have a quiet place to hide away and study." She noticed the dangling sewing needle still attached to his torn shirt, and volunteered to help finish mending it. As she repaired the shirt, he looked lovingly down at her, barely avoiding being stabbed in the chin with the needle each time she pulled upward on the thread with her sewing motions.

To keep her around longer, he ripped off another shirt button and requested further assistance. He sat on the arm of a chair, lovingly smiling and looking down at her, as she again repaired his shirt. While she was finishing up the button attachment, with his left hand in a close-up view, he cut off three more buttons from his coat's sleeve with a pair of scissors - as the film faded to black.

"Speedy" at Tate College:

As "Speedy" splurged through the dizzy days, even the Tate Tattler sat up and took notice.

An article in the school newspaper (the Tate Tattler) featured Harold's picture and reported on his new nickname: "Speedy the Spender." He had acquired a reputation for the ice cream incident: "This Frisky Freshman is Just a Regular Fellow who is Leaving a Trail of Empty Ice Cream Cones on his Dizzy Dash to Popularity." Harold cut out the article, glanced at his picture of Chester Trask tacked on his wall, and assured himself that he was attaining the popularity and admiration that he had always wanted. He pinned the Tattler article under his 'hero's' picture - he believed he was being admired on campus, although a group of freshman, including the mean-spirited College Cad, joked, ridiculed and laughed at him after reading the same article.

At her job at the Hotel Tate, Peggy cut out the notice, but tore off the commentary and just kept Harold's picture. Although she saw that Harold was surrounded by other freshman, she knew that he was being mocked and ridiculed - and that he didn't realize how everyone truly felt about him. Chester Trask drove up in his open vehicle, and a group of adoring females raced to his car, leaving Harold with the College Cad, who recommended that Harold could become the new campus hero if he was a football star:

You see, you can never be as popular as Chet Trask unless you play on the football team.

Football Practice:

Football practice - - where men are men and necks are nothing.

In the practice yard, the coach (Pat Harmon) - who was described as "so tough, he shaves with a blow-torch," urged his star player and team captain Chester Trask (with a prominent # 1 on the back of his jersey) to toughen up the team players: "The boys are getting careless - I'll have to jack 'em up. Get them together and I'll tear 'em to pieces!" The team was summoned for a huddle as the Coach lectured to them during a pep talk:

What this team needs is the fighting spirit! You dubs are dead from your dandruff down.

He gestured wildly at them, and lauded his star captain: "There's the only man on your team with the real Tate spirit!" A disembodied hand knocked on the practice yard door. Accompanied by the College Cad, the bespectacled Harold entered with a football uniform, helmet, and a strange nose-mouth guard. Chester had moved back as Harold approached, and the Coach mistakenly pointed at Harold and told the team:

There's the man to model yourselves after! He's worth more than the whole bunch of you put together! He's a regular go-getter - a red-blooded fighter - the kind of man that Tate is proud of. You're all afraid of getting hurt! I'd like someone to show me a real ROUGH tackle!

Harold was dislodged when a blanket was pulled out from under his feet, and he tumbled into the Coach and both fell to the ground. The Cad introduced Harold to the Coach, prompting 'Speedy' to perform his introductory handshake-jig. Harold requested a place on the football team: "I'd like to play on your football team if you don't mind." The coach was unimpressed but asked: "Can you kick a football?" Harold attempted a kick - but sent the pigskin backwards over a wooden fence behind him.

When he went to retrieve the ball, it was located next to the doghouse of a mean-looking dog named Mike (Petey from Our Gang). Fortunately, the dog's tether chain kept him from biting Harold. He maneuvered and circled around Petey until the dog's chain was shortened by being wrapped around a water faucet, and then safely picked up the ball.

The players were lined up to charge at the practice tackle dummy, suspended from a rope. Two times, Harold lunged at the dummy just as the assistant coach holding the rope would drop it - sending Harold sprawling onto the ground. On his third attempt, the Coach (holding the rope) was toppled to the ground when Harold lunged at the dummy - and damaged it. Infuriated with him, the Coach ordered Harold out:

Get off this field - - AND DON'T COME BACK!

Without a tackle dummy for practice, Chester suggested using Harold as the dummy:

The boys need tackling practice more than anything else - we've GOT to have a dummy!

The Coach called Harold back - to serve as the replacement practice dummy for the damaged one. He was repeatedly tackled by members of the team, but kept a resilient, enthusiastic smile on his face as he was knocked and bashed about. However, the Coach was not satisfied:

This is no petting party! That's not half hard enough!

Another round of tackles commenced. When one player improperly brought down Harold with a high tackle, the infuriated Coach tightly grabbed Harold with a neck-lock as he reprimanded his player: "Never tackle a man this way! You might get hurt!" He knocked Harold down with a low-tackle to demonstrate: "You see - that didn't hurt me a bit. And besides, if you tackle high, they'll get you with the straight arm - now watch me!" He straight-armed Harold and sent him flying backward, and then told the player: "You see, that's not the way to do it. Now I'll show you the right way to do it." Harold was straight-armed a second time. Anticipating being knocked down repeatedly, Harold had prepared for a soft landing with a pile of clothing heaped onto a basement trap door.

He didn't plan on having the assistant coach open the cellar door, leaving the entry to the basement wide open. Harold was propelled backward down the cellar steps. The force of the fall had caused the bottom of his nose-guard to become stuck inside his mouth. He stumbled out of the cellar as the persistent Coach yelled at his players:

You guys are wearing me out! This team is going to learn to tackle if it takes all night!

About twenty team players again lined up to tackle the 'dummy' - Harold. Reluctantly, Harold staggered into position. After a few tackles, the scene faded to black, and then after a quick fade-in, Harold was now completely exhausted and disheveled after repeated tackles that stretched into the night. As he fell to the ground with his left leg bent at the knee, he looked down and was fearfully shocked. It appeared that his leg was fractured and bent upwards at a 90 degree angle. He pulled on the lifeless leg (from the knee down) and it detached completely. In disbelief, he thought he had severed his leg completely, but then realized it was the tackling dummy's straw appendage and not his. He collapsed at the feet of the Coach.

When practice time was over, as the staggering Harold volunteered to carry water pails, the practice dummy and other equipment into the locker room, he was still enthusiastic and told the Coach: "We had a great work-out, didn't we, Coach?" The Coach was about to dismiss him ("That kid's got a great spirit - I hate to tell him he can't make the team"), but his star player Chet suggested a way to keep him on the squad:

Why not keep him on the squad as water boy - - and let him think he's one of the substitutes?

After practice, Harold was returned by taxi to his boarding house. Bruised, sore, and stretched out in the back seat, he was assisted by the taxi driver. On the curb, he struggled to greet a few other students with a handshake and half-hearted dance. He feared that his back was broken when he bent down to pick up his helmet, and heard a cracking sound. (A neighbor snapped a piece of wood.) He gestured toward a passing white ambulance.

Harold's Misconceptions About His Social Status:

At the front desk of the Hotel, Peggy overheard the College Cad gossiping about Harold, and mentioning how he had been fooled into becoming the football team's water boy:

I've got a new one on Speedy - - he thinks he made the football team - - and he's only the water boy!

She rushed over to defend her friend: "Harold Lamb has more spunk in his little finger than you have in your whole conceited make-up!" She came up to Harold - who she found crawling up the stairs to his room after the vigorous football workout. Peggy tried to alert him that he was not on the football team, but he interrupted her and boldly exclaimed:


Although she contemplated telling him the real truth, she hesitated and decided to remain silent. She helped him to his room and praised him for his accomplishment: "I - I congratulate you." Inside his room, he moved his Tattler article up alongside the Chester Trask 'hero' posting - to show his elevated status as a popular member of the team. He truly believed that he was ascending the social ladder and about the replace Trask as the campus hero

And so, in Speedy's fancy, Chet Trask was tottering on his throne.

The Tattler featured an article (The Tattler wonders -- ) about the host for the upcoming Fall Frolic dance:

- who will step forward this year to be our host at the customary Fall Frolic. It will be remembered that the host of last year's gala event was Chet Trask, who was later voted the most popular man in college.

Harold imagined that he could host the annual Fall Frolic dance - to help him further succeed in his ongoing popularity contest. He moved his picture above Trask's photo on his wall to symbolize his superiority.

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