Reel Toronto: The Freshman
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Reel Toronto: The Freshman

Toronto's extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn't always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.

Ah, what a breath of fresh air The Freshman is! (No pun or linguistic symmetry intended there, really.) If you read this column and/or have ever seen The Godfather, you simply have no excuse if you’ve never seen it. It’s an amusing movie in its own right, but the obvious selling point is Marlon Brando playing a gangster (Carmine “Jimmy the Toucan” Sabatini) who looks, acts, and talks exactly like Vito Corleone, something no one quite knows how to say to his face.

That’s just for starters. By the time you’ve seen the Mona Lisa in his living room (the one at the Louvre is a fake) or Bert Parks introducing a Komodo dragon that’s about to be eaten for dinner to the tune of the Miss America song (oh, and he encores with “Maggie’s Farm”) you know you’re in rarefied territory. They don’t make movies like this any more and, come to think of it, they didn’t much in 1990 either.

Much of the exterior shooting was done in New York but a great deal was actually shot up here. If you’re old enough you may recall the hullaballoo when, during filming, Brando gave a rare interview to the Globe and Mail and took the opportunity to say the movie was a piece of shit and he’d never act again. Really, he was just in a snit because he wanted more money, and once it came out and he got paid he agreed it wasn’t so bad after all. But, even in those pre-internet days things could go viral and, in terms of the box office, it was too little too late.

This is one of those movies where you have to look to spot most of the Toronto stuff. For example, we swore we remembered this being Union Station, but it’s clearly actually New York’s Grand Central Terminal. No dice there.

On the other hand, this was easier: the Catholic seminary Penelope Ann Miller attends is actually St. Mike’s, at U of T. You can see some of the quad…

…and that sculpture they have there.

The longest GTA sequence is a beauty when the Komodo dragon Matthew Broderick and his roommate are charged with transporting gets loose at this gas station. The “Ascot Inn” is presumably a descendant of what’s now a co-op but the gas station is a Petro Canada now, on Rexdale Boulevard…

…right beside the Woodbine Centre mall.

You know how they use fake licence plates to make local cars look foreign? Yeah, the car attached to this New Jersey plate was purchased at Thornhill’s Roy Foss dealership. Yes, that’s the kind of pointless detail we try to bring you week in, week out here at Reel Toronto, folks.

You can’t miss that the mall is Woodbine, largely because of the Fantasy Fair amusement park they have inside. The dragon goes swimming with the bumper boats…

…running past the train…

…Broderick and Frank Whaley enter by the Ferris wheel…

…you can see local shops, like Laura Secord…

…and even the rather obvious mall crest on the floor.

In a not-so-subtle bit of product placement you can see an Abercrombie & Fitch both before they opened in Canada and before they realized they could make more money blasting music, showing pictures of mostly naked people, and selling faded T-shirts and ripped hats. (Random trivia: The dragon is actually played by a few monitor lizards.)

Jimmy the Toucan’s house (which not only has the Mona Lisa but also a stereo hard-wired to play the song “Mona Lisa”) was shot on Forest Hill’s tony Dunvegan Road, at Frybrook.

This is (as far as we know) the only movie where you can see Marlon Brando ice skating. It looks like these scenes were shot at Mississauga’s Port Credit Arena which you see both inside…

…and out.

We’re not sure where they found this cornfield in which Brando and Broderick take the dragon for a walk at the end, but it’s probably a subdivision by now.

Good readers, we’ve watched films based on video games, films that got single-digit rankings on Rotten Tomatoes, and films that somehow won Oscars. The Freshman is about as good as any of them (as even Brando might tell you if he was alive, cashing cheques, and in a good mood), and the Toronto stuff is really just a bonus. If you look closely you might even spot some primo Canuck talent, like Kenneth Welsh. There’s also a good dozen inside Godfather jokes, not the least of which is the casting of Bruno Kirby as Jimmy the Toucan’s nephew, Victor.

We even found this nice little retrospective interview if you want to know more.


UPDATE: OCTOBER 4, 2013: Thanks to commenters who pointed out an additional location we missed. Broderick’s dorm room was shot at Glendon College’s Hilliard Building.