Running Movie Reviews, by Randy Treadway
There was a silly Cary Grant comedy with some other young actor (Jim something-or-other), forget the name, playing an American in the '64 Olympic Marathon. Had a lot of romp around Tokyo in odd situations which were supposed to make us laugh. One of the characters being entered into the marathon was just a plot device to explain the setting in Tokyo- it didn't really play into the overall plot very much. Can't recommend it. Pretty dated.
As far as documentaries go, Leni Reifenstahl's Olympia is one of the best, in fact in some parts it's better than anything Bud Greenspan has ever put out. Filming the shadows of the runners instead of the runners themselves in the marathon was pure genius in artistry. Parts that went a bit slow included the diving (pretty much the same angle shot over and over) and the coverage of the equestrian part of the pentathlon when there was an especially vicious water bog that seemingly nobody could get through without getting dumped. A lot of time was spent with spill after spill. But it was revealing to see German Army bystanders jumping in to help (i.e. cheating) for their champion Lt. Handrick (they held his horse for him until he could get back on- something they didn't do for anybody else), who ended up winning the whole competition. Be sure to rent the version dubbed in English, unless you understand German.
Burt Lancaster in the Jim Thorpe Story wasn't too bad- concentrated on his dealing with a lot of prejudices against Native Americans (called 'Indians' when the movie was made in the '50's). Most poignant part was toward the end of the film when, at a point with Thorpe a middle-aged homeless derelict, his old coach from Carlisle Indian School days dragged him off the streets and took him to sit in the L.A. Coliseum during the '32 Games in order to rekindle some old memories and remind him that there are things in life worth pursuing. Thorpe then gets his life turned around by working with kids. Might find a video of it in a Blockbuster- it's worth renting.
I don't think it was running, but the plot device in 'Charlie Chan at the Olympics' has his son (don't remember if it is 'Son Number One' or 'Son Number Two) entered in the '36 Berlin Olympics. But I think he may have been a diver. Anyway, there were a couple of stadium shots, but the plot as usual with the Chan films was a murder mystery with Chan helping the Berlin Police (Gestapo?), this being before enough info got out to demonize the Nazis. Not worth renting from any kind of athletic standpoint, only if you like Charlie Chan mysteries. Chan was 'politically incorrect' in the late '70's and '80's, but has made a comeback in the '90s mainly due to expressed pride by Asians themselves. The series is now reappearing in video stores. The Jesse Owens story was a made-for-TV movie about 15 or 20 years ago and might be available in video stores. As I recall, it covered his Alabama roots, his trying to support a wife while competing for Ohio State, and of course his Olympic achievements- I don't recall if it depicted his trying to talk to the '68 fist-raisers and being rejected as an 'out-of touch old man'. But I think it covered his return to the Berlin Olympic Stadium in the '50's to be welcomed by Berlin's mayor before throngs of cheering Germans, with the comment 'I will shake your hand even though Hitler would not!'. I've seen this one in video stores.
Here's a looser if there ever was one- Disney's 'World's Greatest Athlete'- I think it starred Jan Michael Vincent back in the early '70's, with Joe Flynn as the typical college administrator. Essentially the plot does for track & field what "Flubber" did for the game of basketball- makes it into a superhuman kind of farce. Typical Disney fare from the late '60's/early '70s right after Walt died and they were struggling. You might like it if you liked the 'Love Bug' series. In my view, not worth renting even if it's offered for just 50 cents. However- I DO like to look at some of these films, usually shot in the L.A. area, and spot track stadiums which still exist in the area and see what they used to look like with dirt tracks, wooden bleachers, etc. Also sometimes 'opposing athletes' were played by local UCLA or USC athletes, and a keen eye might ID a few of them. Many of the stadiums used for these movies were junior college stadiums which the production companies could rent for cheap---- but I saw one not long ago which I recognized as Cal State L.A. Some of the announcers used in these films, while having a very clear voice and annunciation, could take lessons from Scott Davis and Bob Hersh. One film, I think it might be this one (World's Greatest Athlete)- has the basketball Lakers' famed announcer Chic Hearn announcing a track meet- now THAT's a sight to see!!!
Speaking of track stadiums- one of the Bruce Lee films has him in a super kung-fu fight at the lower steps of UCLA's Drake Stadium (which had probably just been built a year or two before the movie was filmed). The fight was just about where the triple jump pit is now, between the track and the grandstand. Occasionally today, when I pass that spot on my way from field level up to the concession stand, I get an urge to kick something in memory of Bruce...
The Babe Didrickson movie wasn't bad -- it ends up as a tear-jerker of course. I think it starred Alex Karras as her husband George. May have been a TV-movie, I don't recall. It covered her Olympic achievements, of course, but also moved into her golf career and then spent a lot of time dealing with her fight against cancer. It's probably what is today referred to as a 'chic flic'. I was disappointed that there wasn't enough track & field action.
There was also a TV movie about the 1898 Athens Olympics, and how a group of Americans rounded up off eastern U.S. college campuses performed amazingly and brought home a lot of medals. I think the name was 'The First Olympics' or something. It was also a TV movie. Pretty much a 'surface' coverage of what went on- doesn't get too deep- for those familiar with how today's Olympics are run, it was pretty amazing how somebody back then could show up and just enter an event on a whim- or enter something different just because very few other people were entered.
Here's one not to be missed- ever wonder how much extra adrenaline would be pumped into your system if you were running a 10K race, or a marathon, and there were spears landing at your heels and all around you? Then you won't want to miss "The Naked Prey." The plot concerns a white Euro or American (don't remember which) who is captured by an African tribe, tied to a stake with two others, watches those two tortured and killed in front of his eyes, then is stripped naked and told that he will be given a head start, but that armed natives will track him down to kill him. Pretty exciting heart-pounding stuff throughout the movie- I won't tell you how it comes out- you'll have to rent it. I remember buying the comic book version of this movie in the '60s as a kid- it had a color picture from the movie on the cover.
Say, what was that movie with a Hollywood model/actress (I think it was Mariel Hemingway) playing a University of Oregon track athlete? I didn't see it, but heard it was pretty bad.
Okay, that's all I recall for now (other than the movies already mentioned by others).
So what movies NEED to be made? Here's my top-10.
1. Louis Zamperini. Can't miss at the box office if done right.
(as Hollywood would say, it will have 'legs'- sorry,
bad pun). I have my doubts about the declared
Nicholas Cage in the title role, though. Way too old, too
ugly, not athletic enough. Hollywood may have to pull
off a miracle to transform Cage into a believable Zamp.
2. Glenn Cunningham. May have already been made a long time ago, but worthy of a modern remake.
3. Mamo Wolde, Olympic fame followed by imprisonment.
4. Kitei Son (Japanese name)- Korean forced to run for hated Japan, who occupied Korea at the time, yet brought home Olympic marathon gold. The Japanese even entered him under a Japanese name instead of his own. Later allowed to bring torch into the stadium at the Seoul Olympics.
5. Ghada Shouaa or Nawal El Moutawakil- becoming a champion in spite of a society which tries to kill you for not conforming to their view of subservient women. Might have to wait, since both are still dependent on their National Olympic Committees (Nawal even representing them with the IOC), and the abuses are still very much alive.
6. Emil Zatopek- one of the greatest Olympic champs, followed by being made an eventual Communist 'persona-non-grata'.
7. Merlene Ottey- fashion model looks, perseverance in spite of never winning gold in the big ones against a long list of 'shooting stars' from other countries. Perseverance pays off in the end. Story might have to wait, of course, since it's still being written.
8. Rudolf Harbig- way ahead of his time in a growingly turbulent fascist state, career overwhelmed by war, which ended up killing him.
9. I can't find the name of the guy quickly but am looking for it- there is a real-life basis for the 'Naked and the Dead' script- an American frontiersman was captured by Native American Indians in the early 19th century along with other whites, some were hideously murdered, and he was asked if he was a good runner. He lied and told them he was a terrible runner, when he was actually a champion distance runner in early 19th century foot races, hoping that the reverse psychology would give the Indians something challenging rather than just letting the women stone him into semi-consciousness and then scalping him- it worked, the 'braves' gloated over what they thought would be an easy kill -- but given a small headstart he outran all but one of the 'braves' in spite of worsening bloody bare feet (the braves had tough leather moccasins) and managed to turn around, dodge a spear thrust, and kill that one brave who had kept pursuing, and eventually made his way all the way back to a frontier settlement and freedom.
10. Avery Brundage- the story of what wealth, corruption and racism can do when combined with unbridled power. This could do for the the 'Brundage legend' what an '80's TV-movie exposť did for the 'J.Edgar Hoover legend'.
11. Anna Fidelia Quirot -- champion despite Cuba economy stuck in the 1950's or earlier, saddled with political middle name, then career comeback after devastating burns in an accident.
Okay, that's eleven instead of ten -- call it a 'baker's ten'.