Jim Thorpe, All American (1951): Running After an American Dream

Jim Thorpe, All American (1951) is a biopic that is too easily dismissed as a mass of clichés about race, sports, and the elusive nature of the American Dream for Native Americans. Some might argue that it was old fashioned, even in its day. You can’t help cringing at lines such as “Indian boy got much to learn,” illnesses that are foreshadowed by a beloved character’s mild cough, and trouble in paradise being signaled by a wife who shrinks away when her hubby tries to steal a kiss, but the child-like broken heart at this movie’s center somehow still ticks away on a visceral level, evoking some complex feelings of guilt, empathy and even vicarious pride as a viewer gets caught up in this version of the great Native American athlete’s simultaneously triumphant and troubled life.

Sports Movies and the Oscar “shutout”

As noted earlier this month in the Personal Journal section of the WSJ, there haven’t been very many sports-related movies nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.  While the sport of boxing has received the most attention from the Academy, only two other sports have had more than a single nominee among the year’s best over its 82 year history:  America’s former and current pastimes – baseball and football, respectively.  Last year’s dramatization of football’s Michael Oher story – The Blind Side (2009) – just received a nomination, but was likely aided by Sandra Bullock’s performance (and nomination for Best Actress) and the fact that AMPAS increased the number of nominees from 5 to 10 for the first time since 1943, when Casablanca (1942) won.

During the Academy’s tenure, only 14 of 479 (less than 3%) nominees for Best Picture – arguably its most vaunted, certainly its most remembered and discussed if not always most acclaimed category – have been sports-related movies despite the inherent drama in stories like that of Jim Braddock (Cinderella Man (2005)), which failed to earn a BP nomination.  One can only speculate whether The Champ (1931) – one of eight nominees for the top award that year, Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) and even The Pride of the Yankees (1942) would have been nominated if the Academy had limited the category to 5 nominees, as it did from 1944 through 2008.


But a more interesting question might be:  which sports movies “woulda, coulda, shoulda” been contenders if there had been 10 Best Picture nominees in their respective years?


Breaking Away

Poster for Breaking Away

Last week I had the opportunity to screen a 16mm print of Breaking Away (1979) in my backyard. This is the film that inspired me as a kid to get into bicycling. I seem to recall seeing the film three or four times in the theater upon its first release, and then that was it – I left it alone. Now 30 years later here I am watching it again, and maybe just a tad nervous that this movie that I held so dear might reveal itself to be a hopelessly dated cheese-fest. About 40 people showed up and I’m happy to report that the film holds up up to mature scrutiny and even garnered a hearty applause from the crowd as the end credits rolled on by. [...MORE]

All Too Human a Father

John Wayne, looking worried,with good reason, in Trouble Along the Way (1953)“What do you know about love? I think love is watching your child go off to school for the first time alone… sitting beside a sick kid’s bed waiting for the doctor, praying it isn’t polio… or that cold chill you get when you hear the screech of brakes, and know your kid’s outside on the street some place… and a lot of other things you get can’t get out of books, ’cause nobody knows how to write ‘em down.”

~John Wayne as Steve Aloysius Williams in Trouble Along the Way (1953)

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