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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > College > Silent Film > Literature > Drama > Horror > The Freshman (1925/Criterion Blu-ray w/DVD)/The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1923/Universal/Flicker Alley Blu-ray)

The Freshman (1925/Criterion Blu-ray w/DVD)/The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1923/Universal/Flicker Alley Blu-ray)

Picture: B & C+/B- Sound: B- & C+/B- Extras: B Films: B

The following silent classics are must-see films that now have had the best possible Blu-ray releases they could have, meaning everyone can enjoy both like never before...

Sam Taylor and Fred Newmeyer co-directed The Freshman (1925), a classic Harold Lloyd comedy that became his biggest hit, playing the title character, the new guy on campus plots to be the new big man there any way he can. However, despite thinking out and working out what he thinks is a full-proof plan, just when it might work, everything goes all wrong to hilariously catastrophic heights. This is as much proof as any film that Lloyd could go a few rounds with the comedy greats of the silent era like Chaplin, Chase, Keaton, Arbuckle, Laurel & Hardy.

The forerunner of endless comedies set on college campuses, this is before the 1980s when such comedies were inadvertently about the decline of education at said institutions, but this classic original hints at the classic division of those who could afford education versus those who could not and likely gained resonance as the Great Depression soon arrived. It has a certain value today even Lloyd himself could not have imagined when he made it. For all the laughs, the greatness of the film and how well it still works, you should see it and see it again.

Extras include another fine booklet on the film with tech info and an essay by Stephen Winer, while the discs add a feature length audio commentary track by Lloyd scholar Richard Correll, Richard Bann & Leonard Maltin, Correll talking about Lloyd with film scholar Kevin Brownlow, John Bengtson's visual essay on the film entitled Harold Lloyd: Big Man On Campus, a 1963 tribute to Lloyd by Delta Kappa Alpha where he is joined by Steve Allen, Jack Lemmon and Director Delmer Davies, Lloyd's hilarious 1953 appearance on the classic TV game show What's My Line? that has him promoting a reissue of this film, Lloyd introducing the film on cameras in later years & clips from the 1966 documentary Harold Lloyd's Funny Side Of Life and three classic silent Lloyd shorts restored: The Marathon (1919), An Easterner Westerner and High & Dizzy (both from 1920).

Save the 1939 Charles Laughton/William Dieterle/RKO sound version, the classic Universal silent The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1923) with Lon Chaney's groundbreaking performance as Quasimodo is as faithful and amazing film of the classic book as any version (including for TV and in animation) ever made. Going on 91 years old as of this posting (!), it was part of a classic trilogy of silent Hollywood horror with the 1920 John Barrymore Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and 1925 Chaney Phantom Of The Opera (both also reviewed on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) as earl;y key horror classics, though some may debate the extent of which this film meets the confines of the genre.

A hugely-budgeted epic production that became a hit that kept the then-smaller Universal Studios on the map, they put it all on the line and the results still pay off today. The acting works, the production design is still amazing after all these years, Chaney transforms himself into the character and steals every scene he shows up in, Director Wallace Worsley is often forgotten in the shuffle but pulled off one of the great silent Hollywood epics and the film succeeds in creating the density of the world where the story takes place very convincingly with no less than five cinematographers capturing all the big screen shots made to be as huge as the Cathedral much of the iconic action takes place at.

For those who might underestimate silent films, you will be surprised how engaging and rich this is, just like reading the book and it has the benefit of being a production that works spectacularly and is a pure cinematic experience that has been imitated, referenced and even literally visually sampled (think of the classic Music Video for Cyndi Lauper's priceless remake of Girls Just Want To Have Fun) that speak to why it remains an all time classic. Of course, the greatest satisfaction seeing it now is that as hard as it may be for some to believe, nothing here whatsoever is a digital visual effect!

Extras include a fine feature length audio commentary track with Lon Chaney scholar & professional make-up artist Michael Blake, silent, rare behind-the-scenes footage with Lon Chaney out of makeup on the Cathedral set (runs 1:40), 50 stills including publicity shots for the film, a booklet on the film with an essay by Blake in the Blu-ray case and Alas and Alack, a short one-reel film from 1939 in which Chaney plays a hunchback, running 13:17.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black and white digital High Definition image transfer can show the age of the materials used, but neither have ever looked better on video, though Freshman is a 4K transfer from well preserved 35mm elements while Hunchback comes from the best surviving 16mm reduction print as restored a few years ago. Freshman is in fine shape for its age and I was impresses by some shots in particular. Hunchback has had some light digital cleaning up versus its previous DVD edition from the same print, but I just wish the original photochemical elements had been transferred carefully with wetgating to get rid of the scratches and flaws that it could get rid of. Otherwise, the Video Black and Gray Scale is impressive and far better than the many bad prints we have seen over the decades.

The PCM 2.0 sound on both films feature music scores that have been more recently recorded and though they sound fine, I would rather watch these in truly silent form and get more impact out of them. The Freshman DVD is lossy Dolby Digital sound that is a little weaker.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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