The Freshman (1925, Newmeyer & Taylor)
The sad truth about Harold Lloyd is that I loved him when I first saw him, but every time I rewatch a movie I like it less. So far I’ve seen Safety Last! and The Freshman twice, and each dropped from “great” down to around “pretty good”. I’m afraid to rewatch the ones I thought were pretty good to begin with.

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Young Harold (he was actually 32) watches imaginary film The College Hero over and over to prepare himself for college, filling his head with stupid ideas about college life. I would’ve loved it if they’d done more movie-vs.-reality comparisons, but it seems the only thing he took away from the film was the hero’s nickname (“Speedy”), catchphrase (“I’m just a regular guy”) and silly jig, which everyone at college mocks until Harold manages to win the big football game, then the jig becomes the coolest thing. It’s a wonder that nobody else at school had seen this movie and figured out Harold wasn’t even an original nut, just a nerdy guy ripping off a bad movie joke. But my biggest surprise was finding that the silly hat Harold wears wasn’t an invention of his silly movie – college kids (according to this silly movie anyway) actually wore those hats!

Below: Harold and “the college cad” in silly hats. The cad, Brooks Benedict, later appeared in Leo McCarey’s not-sequel The Sophomore.
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In the scene below, Harold’s tailor hides behind a curtain, ready to patch Harold’s unfinished suit should the need arise, but the two get their signals crossed because of a dude at a table ringing a bell. Supposedly the bell ringer is Charles Farrell, star of Street Angel, but he sure doesn’t look like he does in my screengrabs from that movie.

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The girl who likes Harold, cutie Jobyna Ralston, was in The Kid Brother and Wings, didn’t make it in the sound era.

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The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916, Christy Cabanne & John Emerson)
Written by DW Griffith and Tod Browning, the same year they did Intolerance, and co-produced by Keystone. Douglas Fairbanks was apparently famous enough to play himself in a framing scene – I think he plays himself, and the rest of the film (starring himself) is his rejected pitch to a producer for a film to star himself. That’d already be plenty to wrap one’s head around for a 1916 short, but that’s before we even get to the main story, which involves incompetent and extremely drug-addicted hero Coke Ennyday trying to stop criminals from smuggling contraband via one-man inflatable toy rafts, and stop the criminal mastermind from forcing the lovely Fish Blower to marry him. Coke gets the drugs and the girl, and I didn’t know I could have my mind blown by Douglas Fairbanks. Bessie Love, the Fish Blower, appeared in three major films in the early 1980’s, sixty-five years after this one. I wonder if anyone on those sets asked her about her cult druggie silent short.

The Play House (1921, Buster Keaton & Eddie Cline)
I’d seen almost all of Keaton’s solo silent shorts, but I’d missed this major one, in which he plays all the characters in a trippy dream sequence that lasts the first half of the film. Reliable heavy Joe Roberts finally wakes Buster from his funhouse-mirrored delusion and he goes to work as a stagehand, where he’s spooked by a pair of identical twins with mirrors. A sheer delight of visual invention only grudgingly held together by a plot.

That’s two of Virginia Fox, daughter of William Fox:
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Buster Keaton’s minstrels:
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Cops (1922, Buster Keaton & Eddie Cline)
The Freshman was a movie about a boy whose ideas about life have been warped by the movies, Leaping Fish had Douglas Fairbanks the actor playing Douglas Fairbanks the aspiring screenwriter, and The Playhouse featured Buster Keaton playing a hundred of himself in a stage performance viewed by even more of himself. Cops has no self-conscious reflection that I can think of. It’s just a damn fine heist/love/chase flick with great invention in props and situations. However it does fit in with the outrageousness of last two films in its ending: snubbed by his intended love, Buster effectively commits suicide by running back into the police station where he has just locked up hundreds of angry cops.

1955 must’ve been a fun year to be at the movies, a heyday of widescreen and color in Moonfleet, Rebel Without a Cause, Lola Montes and even This Island Earth. This one looked great even on my portable player. Watched it about one and a half times, and would watch it again – full of bright color and good jokes and completely forgettable songs (sorry, Dean) and good characters (except for Dean, sorry Dean).

Jerry plays a grown adolescent (big surprise) addled by his addiction to comic books, and Dean is his friend/roommate trying to break into the art world. Dean’s an okay artist but also a ladies’ man in the creepiest, most stalkerish way, and the object of his lusty affection is successful (until she gets fired halfway through) comic artist Dorothy Malone (one year before she stunned in Written on the Wind). Dorothy’s Batgirl model, less hollywood-attractive but with a much cuter smile, is Shirley MacLaine (whose film debut was just one month prior in Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry). It’s complicated, but Dean lands a job for Dorothy’s ex-boss drawing super-violent action comics written by Jerry in his sleep (he dreams aloud) the same day Jerry attends a panel as a witness against comics as a corruptive influence on young minds, while Dean tries to get Dorothy as hard as Shirley tries to get Jerry (via an awful music sequence, the low point of the movie). Then totally out of left field, spies and government agents are after Jerry, and the plot gets so mad that I already don’t remember how it’s ties up, except that Dorothy & Jerry give in to their stalker partners and fall into last-minute “love” (a la Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby) and get married, all in a single few-second shot, the movie’s way of saying “WHEW!”

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Cameo by George Foghorn Winslow, the kid from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, nine years old and already halfway through his Hollywood career. I didn’t recognize Jack Elam (I keep doing that… gotta notice him next time I watch Kiss Me Deadly to see what he looked like in the 50’s). Eddie Mayehoff was wonderful as semi-hysterical Mr. Murdock, the somewhat pathetic boss at the comics company with no creative drive or ideas of his own – he appeared in a few other Martin & Lewis movies but sadly not anywhere else. I love how Dean and Jerry take turns doing impressions of his character.

Eddie Mayehoff:
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Tash made this a couple years after Son of Paleface with Bob Hope, and a couple years before Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?. I think this was the second to last Lewis/Martin flick – a few years later Dean would be starring in Rio Bravo and Jerry would get into directing with The Bellboy.

So this has got narratives written by dreams, the struggle to be an artist in a corporate world, an appreciation and condemnation of comics, government cold-war idiocy, and more attacks on television (after seeing this and Rock Hunter I think TV is a favorite punching bag of Tashlin’s). TV had already been mentioned as the downfall of the comic industry when this scene came along (right after Dean’s so-glad-to-be-employed song) with Jerry testifying against comics from inside a television (color, no less) while Dean discovers the futility of arguing with TV:
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The writers have some more fun with comics when Jerry’s love life takes an super/spider-man angle, as he’s in love with Batgirl but not her real-life “secret identity” Shirley MacLaine. Also some terrific bits with mirrors and frames and distortions. Jerry gets to sing most of a song, and in the other room Dean takes off his shirt and pants and sings to himself in the mirror (maybe this was to stall walkouts of female Dean fans who did not come to hear Jerry do the singing). But when Dean’s mirror image starts singing harmonies and looking back at himself in an unwholesome way, Dean splits. The music starts out okay and gets worse – sorry, songwriters Jack Brooks and Harry Warren (“That’s Amore”, “I Only Have Eyes For You”, “We’re in the Money”).

Rosenbaum says: “Five cowriters are credited along with Tashlin, but the stylistic exuberance is seamless, and this film eventually wound up providing the inspirational spark for Jacques Rivetteā€™s late, great New Wave extravaganza Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974)”

Weird 1950’s Thing I Noticed: the want ads are divided into men’s jobs and women’s jobs. Suppose there was a separate page for negro jobs? More likely a whole separate newspaper.

The annual Artists & Models Ball. I’m guessing the kids at SCAD have parties like this all the time.
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Dean being creepy over Dorothy:
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Cover your ears, Shirley’s gonna sing:
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Jerry tries being a model:
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“Dick Laurent is dead” bookends the film, spoken and heard by Bill Pullman.

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Pullman becomes Balthazar Getty for a while, long enough to get involved in a shady robbery of a rich guy leading to the rich guy’s accidental death. Not sure if the Mystery Man really exists or if Bill or Balthazar even exist, but one or all of them kill Dick “Mr. Eddy” Laurent.

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Below: Robert “Dick Laurent / Mr. Eddy” Loggia with Patricia “Renee/Alice” Arquette. This movie and Spider are sort of the opposite of That Obscure Object of Desire when it comes to casting the female lead. Then again, this movie is sort of the opposite of itself. And its own companion movie. Argh.

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Below you can just see Gary Busey running out of his house to see something that is never properly explained to us. Nothing is really explained. It’s a seductive movie though, more so than Mulholland Drive because the tone stays the same, always slow and dark and headachey, always barrelling down the highway towards an unknown fate with no hands on the wheel. Mulholland gives the appearance of control before yanking it away again, but Lost Highway stays lost the whole way through. I’m starting to prefer it overall. Or maybe I just never got to properly compare them because by the time Mulholland was easily viewable in theaters and on video, Lost Highway had been out of reach for years. Nice new DVD changes things.

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Small final role for Jack Nance (overplaying it) and small final role for Richard Pryor, as coworkers in Balthazar’s garage. Might turn out to be Robert Blake’s final role too, unless he has a post-murder-aquittal career comeback. He overplays his part to utter perfection. Marilyn Manson overplays his tiny part too. Pay more attention to Patricia Arquette next time you watch this instead of trying to figure out the whole wife-murder identity-crisis videotape-surveilance detective story.

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Below: Bill plummets down the Highway, possibly finally aware of who he is and what he’s done. He’s transforming again, but now that Balthazar is also a murderer, that might not help. Similar ending to Mulholland Drive, I guess… wake up, reality closing in (or giving chase). Wicked David Bowie song.

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Katy might have actually liked it. Except for the part where the guy gets his head split open.