Summer of Sports Films: The Longest Yard

Longest Yard illustration by Jeff Schwartzbauer

The Longest Yard – 1974

Dir: Robert Aldrich | Starring: Burt Reynolds, Eddie Albert, Ed Lauter, James Hampton, Richard Keil

Sport: Semi-Pro Football

Review: Paul Crewe (Reynolds) is a former pro-football player who has let the sports world leave him behind so he can focus on being a womanizing drunk. These worlds collide once he beats up his girlfriend, destroys her car, brawls with some cops, and is thrown into a Florida Prison operated by a staff of semi-pro football players. The team/staff the warden has put together can’t quite get over a certain hump in their game and he is going to need some assistance on getting his squad in shape and proposes an ultimatum to Paul Crewe: coach of a team of prisoners to give my boys some warm up games. Crewe agrees and has little trouble assembling a rag-tag squad of rapists and thieves who would murder their mother all over again to have the chance to stiff-arm a guard or two.

Its a comedy if you don’t mind the fact that the characters you are to sympathize with are literally the worst people on earth. Sure the guards aren’t exactly a charming set of peaches themselves but our “hero” at one point bashes a woman’s head against a wooden door in a scene because she is upset that he’s stealing her car. There is some funny moments and its loaded to the gills with macho Burt Reynolds behavior to make it  pretty clear on why this is a film fondly looked back at by the dudes who lived through the 1970’s. The highlight for me in the film is how the actual football game is presented. There is some really unique and dynamic uses of editing and multi-camera presentation – it has an NFL Films quality about it. The movie also does a really great job of reinforcing that Florida is the single worst place in the United States of America. Overall its got some questionable and deplorable components but its also filmed pretty well and fairly entertaining.

Here is far too long of a trailer:

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Summer of Sports Films: Vision Quest

Vision Quest illustration by Jeff Schwartzbauer

Vision Quest – 1985

Dir: Harold Becker | Starring: Matthew Modine, Linda Fiorentino, Michael Schoeffling, Special Appearance by Madonna

Sport: High School Wrestling

Review: Louden Swain has just turned 18 during his senior year of high school – time to make an impact! Lots of kids are focusing on getting through as quickly and easily as possible, others are focusing on their college plans (which he is too, but changes them every 20 minutes of the film), and others are hoping for their one last chance at a State Championship. Louden doesn’t care about some State Championship, he doesn’t even care about the team, he just cares about going down as the best and the best needs to go through one man … SHUTE. Only one hitch in this plan; Shute is two weight classes below Louden. Its training time: all day, all night, at work, on the way home, if you are awake you are burning off your 600 calorie diet and then some. Nothing can blur his focus, well, except for a girl. And not just any girl, a full on adult woman he and his father allow to move into their home (she’s essentially homeless) after her car breaks down and Louden’s father beats up the car salesman who sold her the lemon (the man is also his boss). How can a dude keep the heat when a slick fox is sleeping in your own bed? Its tough, but with the help of friends like Kuch and Elmo (the names in this movie are nonsense) he’ll have the support he needs to take on a giant (of Spokane wrestling)!

This is pretty standard 80’s high school sports film fare except its focused on a more non-traditional sport. So your typical montages of shooting drills and high-stepping through tires is replaced with lots and lots of running in a rubber suit, climbing a peg wall, and bizarre wrestling exercises where you do sit ups on another guys back or crawling with your legs limp. The love interest plays equal time as the wrestling and its fairly strange considering you never get a good idea of how much older she is than Louden, but shes easily in her late 20’s and he’s 18 and still in high school, and the path to their partnership is plotted fairly clumsily and they suddenly bork and there you go. It should match the drama leading up for the battle between Louden and Shute but it falls very short. If there is anything else that competes for presence in the film between Love & Wrestling its the song “Lunatic Fringe” by Red Rider. Its played constantly through out the film any time Louden is training or in some sort of intense situation. Different portions of the song are queued depending on the situation – they really wring the song pretty dry of its cinematic potential. I don’t recall ever seeing it on TV myself, but this seems primed for Saturday afternoon basic cable. I would say its a good choice for a film to catch a nap too, but you’ll get woken up by a few too many “LUUUUUNATIC FRIIIIINGE!”‘s to catch many z’s.

This trailer does a good job of ignoring 50% of the films plot:

Summer of Sports Films: The Champ

The Champ illustration by Jeff Schwartzbuer

The Champ – 1931

Dir: King Vidor | Starring: Wallace Beery (Oscar Winning Performance), Jackie Cooper, Irene Rich

Sport: Boxing

Review: Single parenting is tough and its even tougher when you are a drunk out-of-shape boxer living in 1930’s San Diego. Champ and his young son Dink (I can’t imagine its his real name) are trying their damnedest to get back on top but spill-outs keep pulling Champ into the ditch whenever he gets wind of a hot dice game or finds a nickel too close the barroom. Dink can only try and shove Champ in the right directions so much and is extremely forgiving of Champs constant broken promises and let downs. When Champ hits a hot streak and wins Dink a horse things appear to be on swing upwards. Dink takes the horse down to Tijuana for some races and impresses a wealthy couple in the stables with his confidence in his new horse “Little Champ”. Once the races begin the couple is shocked to see Champ at the race and that Dink is his son. The wealthy woman had abandoned Champ and her infant son years ago on the East coast after their love affair had ended. Now with a change of heart (and bank account) she now wants to be the mother she never thought she could be years ago. Dinks happiness is with his father but his safety and security would be with his newly discovered mother and Champ is put at a cross-roads whilst he is given the opportunity to show that he can still be Boxer he once was.

For subject matter that is extremely serious the film presents it all through a Lil’ Rascals filter. Their poverty has a real charm and Champs drunk escapades are usually some what comical and Dink just rolls with a “Aw, geez! Thats Champ for ya!” sort of attitude. Every sort of problematic situation is handled with a forgiving attitude and I actually never really found Dink to be in much danger and the kid doesn’t even have an ounce of interest in his newly found Mother. Obviously its no life for a child but you feel like its just a matter of time for Dink to be able to make it on his own or he will just run away from his Mother. Besides, considering Dinks age and it being 1931 — he’s going to WW2 either way. Best of luck, Dink! I would say the reason to watch the film is for Wallace Beery’s performance as the character “Champ”. While I am not sure I would say its Oscar Worthy, its unique and almost cartoon like — every movement is oddly exaggerated and his lines barked and drawn out. Its entertaining throughout.

This trailer really trys to hype up the emotional tension of the film which I don’t feel registers very well 80 plus years later.

Summer of Sports Films: Blue Chips

Blue Chips illustration by Jeff Schwartzbauer

Blue Chips – 1994

Dir: William Friedkin | Starring: Nick Nolte, Mary McDonnell, JT Walsh, Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, Matt Nover

Sport: Collegiate Mens Basketball

Review: You can divide this movie in to two chunks: The first 15 minutes and then the remaining 93. The first 15 minutes features a fantastic Bobby Knight-esque locker room tirade that is just overflowing with patented Nick Nolte “GODDAMNIT!”‘s as he yells at his first squad to ever produce a losing season under his guidance. The game that follows this tirade is orchestrated exceptionally and really captures the tension and excitement of a college game in the national spotlight. I would assume any college basketball fan would be eating this up and any layman could appreciate the excitement and atmosphere. However, the very second this game ends the movie drives the lane right into a smoldering garbage dump. The rest of the film focuses on Nolte’s attempts at recruiting new players cleanly in a world where collegiate athletics is dominated by under the table money. The three marquee players the film focuses on are portrayed by a real life college/pro players and each one of them is about as interesting as a parquet flooring tile with an acting performance to match. Shaquille O’Neal gets second billing on the films poster but its purely for marketing purposes to capture the insane hype he was receiving in real life at the time, his character “Neon Bordeaux” has a handful of lines all delivered as if they were just read to him seconds before film started rolling and various shots of him dunking with ADR’d “BRAWHHHH!” sounds played on top. While the other two marquee players backstories are extremely generic and predictable (black inner city kid / white country kid), Neon Bordeaux’s is ludicrous and shameful. Neon is some sort of un-coached behemoth hidden away in the jungles of Louisiana where Nolte literally has to travel by a boat to some lost island, cut his way through a jungle and be rushed through a dilapidated village by children to bare witness to this modern day King Kong in a secret underground basketball bunker. The film stops just short of having Nolte shackle him in chains and drag him away – I guess they must have figured that was where they should draw the line. Nolte is forced to suffer through various moral and ethical dilemmas to secure his top flight players via illegal methods as well as seek aid from his ex-wife to tutor his players and keep his underhanded schemes a secret. The writing and plot is in a constant struggle to make things interesting to non-basketball fans and experts alike – but it can never find a balance and just jumbles it all up so its a mess for everyone. As a Nolte fan I can watch him swear and curse in just about anything but with a supporting cast of uninterested actors and untalented non-actors you just keep wishing things would cycle back to when he was the only one talking during the first 15 minutes of the movie.

Whomever edited this trailer should have edited the whole movie: