Blu-ray Review: THE FRESHMAN (Retro VHS Edition)

Jan 05 Posted by in DVD/Blu-ray, Reviews | Comments

On January 12, Mill Creek Entertainment will offer another batch of its Retro VHS Slipcover Blu-ray releases, bringing several more late 80s/early 90s films to the Blu-ray format for the first time. One of these new releases hitting the HD format for the first time is the 1990 mob comedy The Freshman, starring Marlon Brando and Matthew Broderick.

Clark Kellogg (Matthew Broderick) grew up in Vermont. His father died when he was six, and his mother remarried two years later to animal rights activist Dwight (Kenneth Welsh). Clark never really got along with his stepfather, and is excited to finally leave the nest, heading to New York City to begin his freshman year at N.Y.U. film school. Clark isn’t even in the city for 20 minutes before he finds himself scammed and robbed by street urchin Victor (Bruno Kirby). Clark manages to track down Victor, but he no longer has his money or books. Instead, he offers Clark a lucrative job making the occasional delivery for his uncle, “importer” Carmine Sabatini (Marlon Brando)—who bears an uncanny resemblance to “The Godfather”. Without any other options, Clark reluctantly accepts the job, and gets his roommate Steve (Frank Whaley) to help him with the first delivery—which turns out to be an endangered Kimono Dragon. Once Clark discovers the purpose of these deliveries, he starts to regret his decision, and wants to quit. At the same time, Clark discovers that a pair of Feds (Richard Gant & Jon Polito) have been watching him. Carmine has already taken to Clark, like the father he always wished he had had. He even sees Clark as a potential husband for his daughter, Tina (Penelope Ann Miller). So, while Clark may be a wise guy to leave this “family”, it isn’t going to be easy.

I had first seen The Freshman way back when it was first released on VHS, but appreciated the film a lot more this latest time around re-watching on this Blu-ray release. Marlon Brando is constantly stealing his scenes as he is obviously having a blast playing this tongue-in-cheek parody of his most iconic role. It’s a wonder how he is able to keep a straight face while playing this ridiculous, over-the-top version of Don Corleone. There is this hilarious running joke where whenever someone meets Carmine for the first time, they can’t help but remark at his uncanny resemblance to “The Godfather”. This is especially true of Clark’s self-absorbed, Godfather-obsessed film school advisor, Arthur Fleeber (Paul Benedict), who is in awe and like a fanboy when he first sets eyes on Carmine.

Throughout the film, Clark provides a humorous narration, describing his situation and what’s going through his head. While he doesn’t specifically break the fourth wall and talk directly to the camera, one can’t help but be reminded of Broderick’s role in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, as the narration comes in a similar tone and style, and helps to add another, sometimes sarcastic, level of the humor to the film. Broderick is delightful, playing this awkward guy who’s in a situation way over his head, but manages to roll with the punches. Broderick is the heart and core of the film, and is in pretty much every scene. He has excellent chemistry with all of the other actors, no matter what odd characters or situations Clark encounters—whether that’s verbally sparring with con-man Victor, chasing down a dragon with his overly-dressed schoolmate, fending off advances from the offbeat daughter of the the Don, dealing with an upset package recipient and his partner (Maximilian Schell & BD Wong), or just questioning Carmine about the Mussolini portrait on his wall.

As I watch these Retro VHS releases from Mill Creek, it often occurs to me how much easier things were in films 30 years ago, when people didn’t readily have cell phones and Google Maps. This helps make some of these plots so much simpler, and yet more complicated for the characters at the same time! I really enjoyed revisiting The Freshman. This film has lots of wacky, offbeat characters and situations, and some fun plot twists, though it was usually the scenes between Broderick and Brando that had me laughing out loud.

Mill Creek’s Blu-ray release provides a pretty solid video and audio presentation. The picture is quite clean and pleasant throughout, though it is never heavily detailed, and looks a bit flat and at times. In a scene where Clark and Steve are delivering the dragon, the picture also gets slightly blurry, but this was an outlier. That said, I never really found the presentation to be really displeasing or off-putting, and generally looked very good for a 30-year-old movie. As with most of these Retro VHS releases, the audio is only offered in the original stereo format rather than a more modern 5.1 mix. However, the dialogue remained clear and the soundtrack was pleasant.

Unfortunately, this is a barebones release, and the disc doesn’t include any bonus material or a digital copy. The static main menu only offers the option of watching with or without subtitles. The Blu-ray disc comes packed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase, with a Retro VHS slipcover that makes the release look like a classic VHS rental tape. The details on these slipcovers are really fun, and the design even extends to the spine as well, allowing these discs to displayed like a collection of VHS tapes on the shelf.

What’s Included:

Film: (1:42:39)

  • 1080p / Widescreen 1.85:1
  • Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Subtitles: English SDH


    There is no bonus material included

Final Thoughts:

My Rating

The Freshman is a fun comedic romp that holds up quite well thirty years later. Matthew Broderick is a delight in the leading role and provides a humorous narration throughout. However, Marlon Brando often steals the scene playing an over-the-top version of his most iconic character. The film also includes a wonderful supporting cast of oddball characters. Unfortunately the release doesn’t include any bonus material or a digital copy, but does include a fun Retro VHS slipcover. The release comes recommended for anyone who’s already a fan of the film, and is certainly worth a look from anyone who is a fan of the cast and may have missed this one the first time around.

Check out Mill Creek’s entire lineup of Retro VHS Blu-ray releases