Directed by: Robert Aldrich
Before I begin, here is in my humble opinion is the Top Ten Sports Movies of All Time (a list badly skewed by favourite films from my childhood).
1. Rocky IV
My favourite of the Rocky Franchise, which sees the sad demise of Apollo Creed and the machine like Dolph Lungren appearing as a formidable seemingly indestructible foe, like the prototype Klitschko brother.
2. D2: The Mighty Ducks
Somehow the peewee hockey team get given the chance by Coach Bombay to represent their Country in the Junior Goodwill Games. In a World Cup grudge match the Ducks come up against the mighty sporting world power of … Iceland.
An unbelievably gripping film about statistics in baseball.
4. The Longest Yard (1974)
A wonderful documentary which shows that the now tedious Formula One was once thrilling.
6. Million Dollar Baby
Great performances, heartbreaking ending. Eastwood shines in his twilight years.
7. Remember The Titans
An underrated Denzel Washington flick.
Rodney Dangerfield dropping endless one liners as the coach of a girls’ football (soccer) team who ropes in a ringer to play for the team… a boy.
9. Dogtown and Z-Boys
Helped me to understand why skateboarding matters.
10. The Fighter
A great biopic about Irish Micky Ward, I can’t wait for the sequel which will cover the Ward vs. Gatti wars.
Number four on that list is ‘The Longest Yard’ starring Burt Reynolds. Reynolds is perhaps best known as one of Hollywood’s worst decision makers, turning down roles as James Bond and Han Solo. It is fitting that he plays a washed up NFL quarterback named Paul Crewe who makes a host of poor decisions including match fixing, which killed his career, and driving under the influence of alcohol, a major boob which got him incarcerated, tarnishing his reputation.
‘The Longest Yard’ provided the blueprint for all team sports movies to come, the underdog story, the bunch of misfits who come together against all odds and defeat the well drilled team who are stronger, more skilful and better organized than they are aka The Bad Guys. The underdogs get by on grit and inspiration, never giving up until the bitter end.
In the case of ‘The Longest Yard’ it’s guards versus cons. Paul Crewe reluctantly takes charge of a team made up of prisoners to play the semi-pro guards team who are looking for an easy tune up before the new season starts. Crewe is an anti-hero; he physically assaults his girlfriend, before drunkenly driving his sports car over a pier. He then further drowns his sorrows in a bar, and attacks the two policemen who come to arrest him. He is an asshole.
He shouldn’t therefore be likeable, but for some reason as soon as the prison guards shave off Reynold’s moustache a wave of sympathy washes over me. It’s one of those iconic sad cinematic moments which brought me to the brink of tears. Perhaps I’m one of those men who are easily moved by the removal of facial hair.
One of the things you notice about any film made in the seventies is that men were men; there are no male models and carefully sculpted gym bodies; the folically challenged Ed Lauter for example would never be cast as Captain Wilhelm Krauer, or if he did he would have been given a hair piece. Krauer is a great sports movie villain, the bully, the insecure henchman who follows every order of the Prison warden Rudolph Hazen; he is on Crewe’s case from the get go, beating and berating him.
What makes ‘The Longest Yard’ is the film’s supporting cast. The Artful Dodger role of Caretaker, played charismatically by James Hampton, the veteran ball player who has somehow wandered off track Nate Scarborough (Michael Conrad), freaks like the giant Samson (Richard ‘Jaws’ Kiel) and the psychotic karate expert Connie Shokner (Robert Tessier), reprised by Jason Statham in the Vinnie Jones version ‘Mean Machine’. Honourable mentions must also go to the curiously attractive Miss Toot played by Bernadette Peters and the slimy, creepy prison rat Unger (Charles Tyner).
The film tackles the issue of race in an up front fashion. Crewe gets chained to an old black guy called Granville when the prisoners are out digging in the sweltering heat. When approached to play for the prison team most of the black prisoners don’t want anything to do with the game, but Granville chooses to play because of his love of the game, a game which has broken down racial boundaries in America. When Granville is victimized by two guards in the library, several black prisoners decide to join the team.
The big game itself is wonderfully entertaining, as the prison team are backed by a singing group of transvestites who model themselves on The Supremes, and some very manly looking cheerleaders. The guard’s most dangerous player is Bogdanski, played by Green Bay Packers linebacker Ray Nitschke. The teams go at it hammer and tongs, and after the first half only two points separate them. The second half is incredibly tense as Warden Hazen makes a deal with Crewe to throw the game. I’m not going to say what happens next, but you can probably guess.
‘The Longest Yard’ is one of my favourite sports films because it is pure escapism, and captures the feeling a sports fan gets when they are witnessing something truly out of the ordinary. A feeling you get after watching an FA Cup giant killing, the improbably occurrence, the miracle plays; although sometimes this feeling doesn’t translate from real live sports events to the silver screen, ‘The Longest Yard’ managed to get it right.