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Football: a career low for Lucille Ball

A darker shade of twilight

Easy Living: Lizabeth Scott, Victor Mature, and Lucille Ball score a touchdown.
Easy Living: Lizabeth Scott, Victor Mature, and Lucille Ball score a touchdown.

Do you miss the prospects of a football-free 2020? Not me, especially with this trio of celluloid scores to spike in celebration.

Video:

Easy Living 1949 trailer

Easy Living (1949)

Jacques Tourneur had never seen a football game when RKO assigned him to direct this story of an aging gridiron star (Victor Mature) diagnosed with a bum ticker. Team physician Dr. Jim Backus warns Mature that any strenuous activity could prove fatal, which forces him to choose between his health and an enterprising wife (Lizabeth Scott). Tourneur’s preoccupation with what goes on outside the stadium rather than in it no doubt contributed to the film’s failure to connect with audiences hungry for action instead of character-driven melodrama. Decades later, it remains one of the film’s strongest points. The director’s naturalistic approach to the subject brings out the finest in his cast, with Mature giving a career-best turn. Lucille Ball was at a career low when she agreed to take on the subordinate role of team secretary and “other woman.” Pouring her heart out to a passed-out-drunk Mature, Lucy’s caring (and exquisitely lit) barroom confessional made me love her all the more. And Art Baker as Scott’s dissolute but wealthy sidepiece casts a darker shade of twilight. In its day, audiences no doubt cheered Vic’s immature smack to Scott’s jaw that closes the picture. Not no more!

Video:

North Dallas Forty 1979

North Dallas Forty (1979)

There’s blood on the pillowcase, and a fractious trek from bed to bath revisits all of last night tackles. Before his breakfast joint kicks in, a trio of teammates — aka gun-toting yahoos looking to make their hunting party a foursome — interrupt the soak by shooting a hole through the bathroom ceiling. (They’re football players — they can do whatever they want!) All this, and the only thing senescent scorer Phil Elliott (Nick Nolte) continues to agonize over is fumbling a simple catch in last night’s game. Coach Strother (the ever-steely G.D. Spradlin) quotes Corinthians and chastises his wide receiver for being immature, but compared to his teammates, Phil is a saint. Strother has more faith in his computer’s stats than he does his players; outside the locker room, he doesn’t give a hoot in hell what his players do. That includes treating women like furniture — “These girls know what happens at these parties; that’s why they come,” observes one jock — and chasing the pharmaceuticals lounging around the team medicine cabinet with a can of Bud. Based on Peter Gent’s semi-autobiographical novel, the jocular crowd I saw it with on opening night hooted and hollered throughout the picture. The film holds up well in retrospect, and while there are laughs to be had, I’m not sure this qualifies as a comedy. (If it’s football and funniness you’re after, may I suggest Semi-Tough, Michael Ritchie’s gridiron reworking of The Philadelphia Story.) Nor had I seen Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings, which accounts for the “Who’s Stallings?” reference sailing over my head. A romance with a priggish and miscast Dayle Haddon lacks sizzle, and as fine a duo as newcomer Mac Davis and Nolte make, the latter spends too much of his time off the field scouting the periphery of the frame. Still, director Ted Kotcheff commandeers a crack supporting cast featuring Bo Svenson, Dabney Coleman, Steve Forrest, and Charles Durning as the coach who swings Maalox from the bottle.

Video:

Big Fan 2009

Big Fan (2009)

It was love at first sight: one look at the trailer for Robert Siegel’s Big Fan and I could have written my review. Few comedians are as in touch with their dark side as Patton Oswalt, making him the perfect candidate to play Paul, a parking garage attendant/mama’s boy who devotes a good portion of his life deifying the New York Giants. One night while visiting a strip club, he encounters the team’s quarterback, Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm). Viewed from afar, his idol worship borders on unrequited love, what Siegel called “a redirection of sexuality into something else.” After an innocent exchange of words, the coked-out hurler beats Paul within an inch of his life; but big fan that he is, Paul refuses to press charges, for fear that the star QB will be sidelined, thus costing “his” team any chance of a successful season. Jocks spend Sunday afternoons watching their favorite teams beating the crap out of each other, so it’s only logical that the film ends in violence, but it’s not what you think. Paul’s exacted retribution manifests itself in the form of what Bluto Blutarsky would call “a really futile and stupid gesture.” But for him, it’s a satisfying and much darker form of revenge.

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Easy Living: Lizabeth Scott, Victor Mature, and Lucille Ball score a touchdown.
Easy Living: Lizabeth Scott, Victor Mature, and Lucille Ball score a touchdown.

Do you miss the prospects of a football-free 2020? Not me, especially with this trio of celluloid scores to spike in celebration.

Video:

Easy Living 1949 trailer

Easy Living (1949)

Jacques Tourneur had never seen a football game when RKO assigned him to direct this story of an aging gridiron star (Victor Mature) diagnosed with a bum ticker. Team physician Dr. Jim Backus warns Mature that any strenuous activity could prove fatal, which forces him to choose between his health and an enterprising wife (Lizabeth Scott). Tourneur’s preoccupation with what goes on outside the stadium rather than in it no doubt contributed to the film’s failure to connect with audiences hungry for action instead of character-driven melodrama. Decades later, it remains one of the film’s strongest points. The director’s naturalistic approach to the subject brings out the finest in his cast, with Mature giving a career-best turn. Lucille Ball was at a career low when she agreed to take on the subordinate role of team secretary and “other woman.” Pouring her heart out to a passed-out-drunk Mature, Lucy’s caring (and exquisitely lit) barroom confessional made me love her all the more. And Art Baker as Scott’s dissolute but wealthy sidepiece casts a darker shade of twilight. In its day, audiences no doubt cheered Vic’s immature smack to Scott’s jaw that closes the picture. Not no more!

Video:

North Dallas Forty 1979

North Dallas Forty (1979)

There’s blood on the pillowcase, and a fractious trek from bed to bath revisits all of last night tackles. Before his breakfast joint kicks in, a trio of teammates — aka gun-toting yahoos looking to make their hunting party a foursome — interrupt the soak by shooting a hole through the bathroom ceiling. (They’re football players — they can do whatever they want!) All this, and the only thing senescent scorer Phil Elliott (Nick Nolte) continues to agonize over is fumbling a simple catch in last night’s game. Coach Strother (the ever-steely G.D. Spradlin) quotes Corinthians and chastises his wide receiver for being immature, but compared to his teammates, Phil is a saint. Strother has more faith in his computer’s stats than he does his players; outside the locker room, he doesn’t give a hoot in hell what his players do. That includes treating women like furniture — “These girls know what happens at these parties; that’s why they come,” observes one jock — and chasing the pharmaceuticals lounging around the team medicine cabinet with a can of Bud. Based on Peter Gent’s semi-autobiographical novel, the jocular crowd I saw it with on opening night hooted and hollered throughout the picture. The film holds up well in retrospect, and while there are laughs to be had, I’m not sure this qualifies as a comedy. (If it’s football and funniness you’re after, may I suggest Semi-Tough, Michael Ritchie’s gridiron reworking of The Philadelphia Story.) Nor had I seen Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings, which accounts for the “Who’s Stallings?” reference sailing over my head. A romance with a priggish and miscast Dayle Haddon lacks sizzle, and as fine a duo as newcomer Mac Davis and Nolte make, the latter spends too much of his time off the field scouting the periphery of the frame. Still, director Ted Kotcheff commandeers a crack supporting cast featuring Bo Svenson, Dabney Coleman, Steve Forrest, and Charles Durning as the coach who swings Maalox from the bottle.

Video:

Big Fan 2009

Big Fan (2009)

It was love at first sight: one look at the trailer for Robert Siegel’s Big Fan and I could have written my review. Few comedians are as in touch with their dark side as Patton Oswalt, making him the perfect candidate to play Paul, a parking garage attendant/mama’s boy who devotes a good portion of his life deifying the New York Giants. One night while visiting a strip club, he encounters the team’s quarterback, Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm). Viewed from afar, his idol worship borders on unrequited love, what Siegel called “a redirection of sexuality into something else.” After an innocent exchange of words, the coked-out hurler beats Paul within an inch of his life; but big fan that he is, Paul refuses to press charges, for fear that the star QB will be sidelined, thus costing “his” team any chance of a successful season. Jocks spend Sunday afternoons watching their favorite teams beating the crap out of each other, so it’s only logical that the film ends in violence, but it’s not what you think. Paul’s exacted retribution manifests itself in the form of what Bluto Blutarsky would call “a really futile and stupid gesture.” But for him, it’s a satisfying and much darker form of revenge.

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