Skip to main content

Before the Super Bowl, stream one of the all-time great football movies

Before the Super Bowl, stream one of the all-time great football movies

/

Harold Lloyd’s comedy classic The Freshman is free online

Share this story

There are so many streaming options available these days, and so many conflicting recommendations, that it’s hard to see through all the crap you could be watching. Each Friday, The Verge’s Cut the Crap column simplifies the choice by sorting through the overwhelming multitude of movies and TV shows on subscription services and recommending a single perfect thing to watch this weekend.

What to watch

The Freshman, a 1925 silent comedy starring Harold Lloyd. The bespectacled comic plays Harold Lamb, a naïve young student who arrives at Tate University expecting college life to be like what he’s seen at the movies: full of school spirit and football heroics. Harold tries to win over his classmates by spending lavishly on snacks and parties, and he pitches woo to the pretty, kindly Peggy (Jobyna Ralston), described in a title card as, “The kind of girl your mother must have been.” All the while, mean-spirited upperclassmen turn the well-meaning newcomer into the butt of their pranks and jokes, including encouraging the football coach to let Harold join the team, so they can treat him as their tackling dummy, servant, and stooge. One of the first 50 films added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry (way back in 1990), The Freshman has been an enduring influence on all the underdog sports stories and campus comedies where nerds and outcasts get to one-up the snobs and jocks.

Why watch now?

Because the 2019 Super Bowl is this weekend.

The NFL’s rise to prominence in American life — and perhaps, more importantly, American television — really began with the first Super Bowl in 1967. Football was a widely watched sport throughout the 20th century, but prior to the 1960s, the pro game generally took a back seat to Major League Baseball and college football. The college game inspired such fanaticism in the years between World War I and II that it became a popular subject for motion pictures, especially for the great screen comedians.

Lists of the all-time great football movies tend to skew modern, emphasizing the likes of Any Given Sunday, North Dallas Forty, and The Longest Yard. But a treasure trove of pigskin-centered cinema classics were released from the 1920s through the ‘40s, like Father Was a Fullback, The Big Game, Saturday’s Heroes, Good News, and Knute Rockne, All American. Similar to the early screen Westerns and gangster pictures, the football movies in the first half of the 1900s had common themes and formulas. They tended either to be stories about underestimated misfits getting a chance to shine or about star athletes overcoming worldly temptations and their own arrogance. Whether the heroes were studs or scrubs, what ultimately mattered was winning “the big game” — a goal with significance that was rarely challenged.

The Freshman nods to the nationwide college football craze with its opening title card, which reads, “Do you remember those boyhood days when going to College was greater than going to Congress — and you’d rather be Right Tackle than President?” When Harold makes his first appearance, he’s practicing his cheerleading “yells” (“Hi Ta Ticky… Bing! Bang!! Blooey!!!… T-A-T-E… ZIP! CHOP SUEY!!”), and imagining himself as the star of the movie The College Hero, Lester “Speedy” Laurel. Lloyd’s playing a likably upbeat doofus, buying in to the great promise of gridiron glory.

Who it’s for

Sports historians, comedy connoisseurs, and newcomers to silent films.

Lloyd is often compared to two other silent-era comedians, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, who all had a rare genius for constructing elaborate, physically taxing visual gags. The most famous image of Lloyd comes from his movie Safety Last, where he hangs precariously from a clock-face, several stories above the ground. The Freshman (co-directed by frequent Lloyd collaborators Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor) doesn’t get that dramatic, but it’s full of amusing bits of business, from the little jig Harold does whenever he meets new people (in imitation of The College Hero’s hero) to a long setpiece where his shoddily tailored suit keeps pulling apart during the school dance.

Lloyd’s silent films were even more notable for the snappy wit of their intertitles. The Freshman (credited to writers John Grey, Ted Wilde, Tim Whelan, and Taylor) features sharp hepcat dialogue, like when one of Harold’s bullies sizes him up as “the latest sport-model freshman with the old-fashioned trimmings.” Even funnier are the wry descriptions, like when the audience is told that Tate’s dean is so dignified that he never married, “for fear his wife would call him by his first name.”

That sarcastic edge extends to the way The Freshman treats Tate University, which is described as “a large football stadium with a college attached.” That kind of joke would still get a laugh of recognition today, given how football still looms large in American culture and academia. The uniforms and the style of play in The Freshman are different from today’s game, but the pageantry and mythology have barely changed over the past 96 years.

Where to see it

Like a lot of silent classics, The Freshman can be easily found on the Internet Archive and YouTube. For those who don’t mind spending a little money, a spiffy recent digital transfer (taken from a 1998 UCLA restoration) can be rented or purchased from iTunes or Amazon. That same version will soon also be part of the Criterion Collection’s subscription streaming site, which just this week announced a launch date: April 8th.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed 12 minutes ago The tablet didn’t call that play by itself

M
The Verge
Mary Beth Griggs12 minutes ago
We’re about an hour away from a space crash.

At 7:14PM ET, a NASA spacecraft is going to smash into an asteroid! Coverage of the collision — called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test — is now live.


E
Twitter
Emma RothAn hour ago
There’s a surprise in the sky tonight.

Jupiter will be about 367 million miles away from Earth this evening. While that may seem like a long way, it’s the closest it’s been to our home planet since 1963.

During this time, Jupiter will be visible to the naked eye (but binoculars can help). You can check where and when you can get a glimpse of the gas giant from this website.


Asian America learns how to hit back

The desperate, confused, righteous campaign to stop Asian hate

Esther Wang12:00 PM UTC
E
Twitter
Emma Roth7:16 PM UTC
Missing classic Mario?

One fan, who goes by the name Metroid Mike 64 on Twitter, just built a full-on 2D Mario game inside Super Mario Maker 2 complete with 40 levels and eight worlds.

Looking at the gameplay shared on Twitter is enough to make me want to break out my SNES, or at least buy Super Mario Maker 2 so I can play this epic retro revamp.


R
External Link
Russell Brandom7:13 PM UTC
The US might still force TikTok into a data security deal with Oracle.

The New York Times says the White House is still working on TikTok’s Trump-era data security deal, which has been in a weird limbo for nearly two years now. The terms are basically the same: Oracle plays babysitter but the app doesn’t get banned. Maybe it will happen now, though?


R
Youtube
Richard Lawler6:54 PM UTC
Don’t miss this dive into Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion Pinocchio flick.

Andrew Webster and Charles Pulliam-Moore covered Netflix’s Tudum reveals (yes, it’s going to keep using that brand name) over the weekend as the streamer showed off things that haven’t been canceled yet.

Beyond The Way of the Househusband season two news and timing information about two The Witcher projects, you should make time for this incredible behind-the-scenes video showing the process of making Pinocchio.


R
External Link
Russell Brandom4:29 PM UTC
Edward Snowden has been granted Russian citizenship.

The NSA whistleblower has been living in Russia for the 9 years — first as a refugee, then on a series of temporary residency permits. He applied for Russian citizenship in November 2020, but has said he won’t renounce his status as a U.S. citizen.


E
External Link
Emma Roth4:13 PM UTC
Netflix’s gaming bet gets even bigger.

Even though fewer than one percent of Netflix subscribers have tried its mobile games, Netflix just opened up another studio in Finland after acquiring the Helsinki-based Next Games earlier this year.

The former vice president of Zynga Games, Marko Lastikka, will serve as the studio director. His track record includes working on SimCity BuildIt for EA and FarmVille 3.


A
External Link
Andrew J. Hawkins3:37 PM UTC
Vietnam’s EV aspirant is giving big Potemkin village vibes

Idle equipment, absent workers, deserted villages, an empty swimming pool. VinFast is Vietnam’s answer to Tesla, with the goal of making 1 million EVs in the next 5-6 years to sell to customers US, Canada and Europe. With these lofty goals, the company invited a bunch of social media influencers, as well as some auto journalists, on a “a four-day, multicity extravaganza” that seemed more weird than convincing, according to Bloomberg.


J
James Vincent3:17 PM UTC
Today, 39 years ago, the world didn’t end.

And it’s thanks to one man: Stanislav Petrov, a USSR military officer who, on September 26th, 1983, took the decision not to launch a retaliatory nuclear attack against the US. Petrov correctly guessed that satellite readings showing inbound nukes were faulty, and so likely saved the world from nuclear war. As journalist Tom Chivers put it on Twitter, “Happy Stanislav Petrov Day to those who celebrate!” Read more about Petrov’s life here.


Soviet Colonel who prevented 1983 nuclear response
Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images
J
The Verge
James Vincent3:03 PM UTC
Deepfakes were made for Disney.

You might have seen the news this weekend that the voice of James Earl Jones is being cloned using AI so his performance as Darth Vader in Star Wars can live on forever.

Reading the story, it struck me how perfect deepfakes are for Disney — a company that profits from original characters, fans' nostalgia, and an uncanny ability to twist copyright law to its liking. And now, with deepfakes, Disney’s most iconic performances will live on forever, ensuring the magic never dies.


E
External Link
Elizabeth Lopatto2:41 PM UTC
Hurricane Fiona ratcheted up tensions about crypto bros in Puerto Rico.

“An official emergency has been declared, which means in the tax program, your physical presence time is suspended,” a crypto investor posted on TikTok. “So I am headed out of the island.” Perhaps predictably, locals are furious.


R
The Verge
Richard Lawler2:09 PM UTC
Teen hacking suspect linked to GTA 6 leak and Uber security breach charged in London.

City of London police tweeted Saturday that the teenager arrested on suspicion of hacking has been charged with “two counts of breach of bail conditions and two counts of computer misuse.”

They haven’t confirmed any connection with the GTA 6 leak or Uber hack, but the details line up with those incidents, as well as a suspect arrested this spring for the Lapsus$ breaches.