The Freshman
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAndrew Bergman
Written byAndrew Bergman
Produced byMike Lobell
CinematographyWilliam A. Fraker
Edited byBarry Malkin
Music byDavid Newman
Distributed byTri-Star Pictures
Release date
  • July 20, 1990 (1990-07-20)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$12 million[1]
Box office$21.5 million[2]

The Freshman is a 1990 American crime comedy film written and directed by Andrew Bergman, and starring Marlon Brando, Matthew Broderick, Bruno Kirby, Penelope Ann Miller, and Frank Whaley. The plot revolves around a young New York film student's entanglement in an illicit business of offering exotic and endangered animals as specialty food items, including his being tasked with delivering a Komodo dragon for this purpose. The film received positive reviews from critics.


Clark Kellogg leaves his mother Liz and environmental activist stepfather Dwight in Vermont to go to New York University (NYU) to study film. After arriving at Grand Central Terminal, he is approached by Victor Ray, who at first offers to carry Clark's bags, then offers a ride. As soon as Clark steps out of the car, Victor drives off with Clark's luggage still in the trunk.

Clark tells his instructor at NYU Professor Fleeber, who uses books he has written as required study, about losing his belongings. Clark notices Victor walking by and gives chase. Victor claims to have sold most of the luggage and lost the money while gambling, but offers him a job as reimbursement. In Little Italy, Manhattan, Clark is introduced to Victor's uncle Carmine Sabatini as Victor explains that Vito Corleone was based on Carmine.

Carmine offers Clark the opportunity to make a lot of money just for running small errands. The first is to pick up a Komodo dragon from JFK Airport and transport it to a specific address. Clark enlists the help of his roommate Steve Bushak to pick up the animal and deliver it to Larry London and his assistant Edward.

Clark is also introduced to Carmine's daughter Tina who takes an immediate shine to him. Tina talks as if the two are soon to be married. A distracted Clark tries to pay attention in Fleeber's film class (where the professor shows clips of the 1974 film The Godfather Part II), but he is soon being chased by agents Chuck Greenwald and Lloyd Simpson of the Department of Justice.

Upon being caught, Clark is told by Greenwald and Simpson that Carmine—also known as "Jimmy the Toucan"—not only is a Mafia figure but runs the Fabulous Gourmet Club. It is an illicit and nomadic establishment, never holding its dinners in the same place twice, where (for enormous prices) endangered animals are served as the main course, specially prepared by Larry London. Clark is told that "for the privilege of eating the very last of a species", a million dollars is charged.

Clark finds out that Dwight listened in on a conversation with Liz. Right after Clark mentioned the Komodo dragon, Dwight contacted the Department of Justice. Carmine admits that the Gourmet Club exists, but tells Clark that Greenwald and Simpson are being bribed by the Bonelli crime family that wants both Carmine and Clark dead. While driving to the Gourmet Club, a plan is hatched to get Carmine out of the exotic animal business for good and to clear Clark.

At the Gourmet Club's dinner, longtime Miss America pageant host Bert Parks sings a version of "There She Is" when the Komodo dragon is revealed. Clark steps outside to signal Greenwald and Simpson, who raid the club. Carmine is upset that Clark has ratted him out. Carmine pulls a gun, the two wrestle, and Carmine is apparently shot dead.

Revealing their corruption, Greenwald and Simpson leave with a duffel bag filled with money, though they are soon caught by real FBI agents and arrested for their crimes. Clark berates his stepfather who leaves. Carmine then gets up off the floor, having faked his death. Larry London reveals tonight's expensive and exotic dinner is actually Hawaiian tigerfish mixed with smoked turkey from Virginia, not endangered species (a long-running con of Carmine's, swindling the rich out of their money). The endangered animals will be in fact housed in the new Carmine Sabatini Endangered Species Wing at the Bronx Zoo. Clark was hand-picked by Carmine, who was in fact working with the FBI, because they knew Clark's stepfather would contact the corrupt agents once he found out about Clark's "job".

Tina's aggressive interest in Clark was an act as well, but she and Clark now share a mutual attraction. Carmine and Clark take the Komodo dragon for a walk, Carmine promising it will be taken safely to a new habitat at the zoo. As the credits start rolling, Carmine offers to help Clark make it in Hollywood, having a few connections there. Clark says "Thanks, but no thanks" as they continue walking.


David Was and Don Was make uncredited cameos as two band members of the Gourmet Club's party band.


Bergman got the idea of the film after reading a newspaper article about mobster Vincent Teresa being arrested for smuggling a near-extinct lizard into the United States. Brando was cast in 1988, and was paid $3 million base salary.[1] Bergman said that "the most fun I ever had" as a filmmaker "was once Marlon [Brando] committed to play the character Jimmy the Toucan... Rewriting that [script], knowing Marlon was going to be saying all those lines? It was absolutely heaven.... On one level you're like, I'm going to direct this guy!? But at the end of the day you say, well, somebody’s got to direct him, so what the hell, it's going to be me. And he was really a pleasure to work with. It's not like you’re dealing with George Burns in terms of a comedy god. Getting Marlon to do things was sometimes like turning around an aircraft carrier because he had a way he wanted to do it. But you could get him there. He was terribly respectful and funny."[3] Bergman says Matthew Broderick "was very hot at the time. He was impossible to get—he was like the hottest thing going!" but he agreed to do the film because of Brando. "Once Marlon was in the picture, you could get any actor you want... Olivier wanted to be in the movie [instead of Max Schell] but he was too sick."[3]

Principal photography was scheduled to begin in October 1988, but was delayed eight months to June 1989. After shooting exteriors in New York City for three weeks, the production moved to Toronto, Canada, for the remainder of the 11-week shoot.[1] Though referred to in the film as a "Komodo Dragon", the lizards supplied for filming were actually Asian water monitors, a slightly smaller relative. A tame specimen was used for scenes requiring the actors to interact with it, while the chase sequences used more aggressive lizards.[4] The Komodo dragon species is endangered, though not as severely as is described in the film.

Marlon Brando publicly condemned The Freshman and claimed it would be the "biggest turkey of all time". This was because Brando asked for an additional $1 million to compensate him for when filming was extended an extra week. The producers initially refused Brando's request and he threatened to badmouth the film in the press. The producers continued to refuse and Brando followed through with his threat. A day later, the producers acquiesced and agreed to pay him the $1 million; Brando began to publicly praise the film.[1]


On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 94% based on 50 reviews, with an average rating of 7.5/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "Buoyed by the charm of Matthew Broderick in the title role and Marlon Brando as a caricature of his Godfather persona, The Freshman benefits from solid casting, a clever premise, and sweet humor."[5] Metacritic gave the film a weighted average score of 78 out of 100, based on 27 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[6] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[7]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times described the film as "witty and enchanted".[8] In his review, Roger Ebert wrote, "There have been a lot of movies where stars have repeated the triumphs of their parts—but has any star ever done it more triumphantly than Marlon Brando does in The Freshman?"[9]


  1. ^ a b c d "AFI-Catalog". Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  2. ^ "The Freshman". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 4 April 2022.
  3. ^ a b Snetiker, Marc (9 January 2015). "Andrew Bergman on writing 'Blazing Saddles,' 'Striptease,' 'Honeymoon in Vegas' and more". Entertainment Weekly.
  4. ^ "MATTHEW BRODERICK: HE'S WORKED WITH THE BEST OF STARS, EVEN REPTILE ONES". Deseret News. 28 August 1990. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  5. ^ "The Freshman (1990)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved March 22, 2022.
  6. ^ "The Freshman". Retrieved 4 April 2022.
  7. ^ "Find CinemaScore" (Type "Freshman" in the search box). CinemaScore. Retrieved March 22, 2022.
  8. ^ Maslin, Janet. "Review/Film; Marlon Brando as Importer, Or Whatever It Is He Does". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (July 27, 1990). "The Freshman". Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved May 3, 2018.