Athletes on Film [3 Discs] [DVD]
- SKU: 16907821
- Release Date: 05/20/2008
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Ratings & Reviews
- Fight for the Title
- Joe Louis radio excerpts
- 1949 World Series announcer highlights
Despite its lack of production values and box-office "names," The Jackie Robinson Story is one of the best and most convincing baseball biopics ever filmed. Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman Jackie Robinson plays himself, and quite well indeed. The film traces Robinson's career from his college days, when he excelled as a track star at Pasadena College and as UCLA's All-Sports record holder. Upon his graduation, Robinson tries to get a coaching job, but this is the 1940s, and most doors are closed to black athletes. After serving in the army, Robinson plays with the Negro Baseball League, where his uncanny skills attract the attention of Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Anxious to break down the "color line" that exists in major-league baseball, Robinson is chosen in 1946 to play for the Brooklyn farm team in Montreal. In a harrowing sequence, Rickey lets Robinson know what he's in for by bombarding him with insults and racial slurs. The manager is merely testing Robinson's ability to withstand the pressure: he wants a black ballplayer "with guts enough not to fight back." Robinson agrees to ignore all racial epithets for the first two years of his Brooklyn contract. Despite the unabashed hatred to which he is subjected during his year with Montreal, Robinson steadfastly continues to turn the other cheek, and in 1947 he graduates to the Dodgers lineup. After a slow start, Robinson justifies the faith put in him by Rickey. The Dodgers win the pennant race, and slowly but surely the ban on black players vanishes in the big leagues. Though a model of restraint by 1990s standards, The Jackie Robinson Story is surprisingly frank in its detailing of the racial tensions of its own era. It falters only in a couple of silly vignettes involving comic-relief ballplayer Ben Lessey. The cast is uniformly fine, including Louise Beavers as Robinson's mother, Ruby Dee as his wife Rae (Dee would later play Robinson's mother in the 1990 TV movie The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson), Joel Fluellen as his brother Mac, Minor Watson as Branch Rickey, and best of all, Richard Lane as Montreal manager Clay Hopper. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Spirit of Youth
World heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis stars in Spirit of Youth. Often mistakenly referred to as a biography of Louis, the film is actually the fictional story of aspiring boxer Joe Thomas, who hopes to make millions in the ring. He does, but as consequence he falls into the hands of a predatory nightclub singer (Edna Mae Harris). Only after the femme fatale stomps on Joe's heart and smashes that sucker flat does he return to his virginal childhood sweetheart (Mae Turner). Clarence Muse and Mantan Moreland contribute excellent performances as, respectively, Joe's manager and best friend. Initially aimed at the "all-colored" theaters of the era, The Spirit of Youth proved popular enough to receive bookings in white movie houses. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
The Great Dan Patch
Though occasionally hampered by its tiny budget, The Great Dan Patch is a reasonably satisfying horse story. The title character was, of course, one of the greatest harness-race horses that ever drew breath. But since Dan Patch couldn't deliver dialogue or conduct an acceptable on-screen romance, the film concentrates on his owner, chemist David Palmer (Dennis O'Keefe). Saddled with an unsympathetic socialite spouse (Ruth Warrick) who cares nothing for horses, Palmer eventually finds happiness with Cissy Lathrop (Gail Russell), the daughter of Dan Patch's trainer (John Hoyt). Black actor Clarence Muse, a "regular" in horse operas of this type, contributes some good moments, including a couple of nice songs. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
The Big Wheel
In The Big Wheel, Mickey Rooney plays Billy Coy, a garage mechanic who matriculates into a champion race-car driver. On the way to the top, he steps on friends and foes alike. He even manages to briefly alienate his saintly mother (Spring Byington). The cocky Coy eventually kills another racer when he forgets that gas and alcohol don't mix. It takes some doing, but Billy finally redeems himself. The climax blends stock footage of the Indianapolis 500 with newly-lensed racing sequences. The Big Wheel lapsed into public domain in 1976. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
The Blonde Comet
PRC Pictures' final 1941 release was the auto-racing melodrama Blonde Comet. Virginia Vale stars as female race-car champion Betty Blake, the toast of the European racing circuit. Upon arriving in America, Betty finds she has a staunch rival in the form of devilishly handsome Jim Flynn (Robert Kent). The plot hinges on Jim's attempts to design a powerful new carburator, the efforts of the villain to scuttle this invention, and Jim and Betty's inevitable romance. Veteran racer Barney Oldfield appears as himself, delivering a appealingly amateurish performance. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
County Fair is an amiable racetrack drama starring Rory Calhoun. A veteran horse trainer, Calhoun has developed a somewhat unsavory reputation. He redeems himself by arranging for near-impoverished matron Florence Bates to win an important race. It's all for the love of a good woman--in this case, Bates' niece Jane Nigh. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
The Basketball Fix
The title tells all in Realart's Basketball Fix. Talented young basketball star Johnny Long (Marshall Thompson) allows success to go to his head. To keep on living in the manner to which he is accustomed, Johnny agrees to shave a few points here and there at the behest of gambling boss Mike Taft (William Bishop). Thoroughly disgusted, sportswriter Peter Ferredey (John Ireland), the man who discovered Johnny, prepares to blow the whistle at the risk of his own life. Waiting anxiously on the sidelines throughout is Johnny's girl friend Pat Judd (Vanessa Brown). This otherwise ordinary programmer is distinguished by the excellent cinematography of Stanley Cortez. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
The Joe Louis Story
Coley Wallace plays the title role in The Joe Louis Story. Told in flashback, the film recounts the pugilistic career of "the Brown Bomber" from the early 1930s to his misguided comeback attempt opposite Rocky Marciano in 1951. The film's high point is Louis' defeat of Germany's Max Schmeling; its low point (dramatically, not quality-wise) is the breakup of Louis's marriage. Evidently for legal reasons, most of the character names in the film are fictional. Many of the fight scenes are culled from footage of the real Louis in action. Though the "race" angle in The Joe Louis Story is downplayed, Louis is treated on an equal par with the white characters, which resulted in the film being banned in certain Southern regions back in 1953. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Kid Monk Baroni
In the words of its star Leonard Nimoy, Kid Monk Baroni was the sort of film that "made unknowns out of celebrities." The young Nimoy is actually quite good as the title character, a boxer whose misshapen face has earned him the unwelcome nickname "Monk." Formerly an unregenerate street punk, Baroni is set on the proper path by parish priest Father Callahan (Richard Rober). Unfortunately, a run-in with his old gang forces Baroni to skip town. He becomes a professional pugilist under the aegis of manager Hellman (Bruce Cabot), taking out his pent-up frustrations in the ring. Able to afford plastic surgery, Baroni buys himself a handsome new face--and, with it, a dangerously oversized ego. Hoping to protect his new face from harm, Baroni washes out in the boxing ring, but redemption--and a lasting romance with Emily Brooks (Allene Roberts)--await just around the corner. Kid Monk Baroni was well-directed by Harold Schuster, whose previous efforts included My Friend Flicka and So Dear to My Heart. A flop at the box office, the film did nothing for the career of Leonard Nimoy, who was obliged to spend the next 15 years in relative obscurity before attaining a second chance at big-time stardom with TV's Star Trek. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Produced, directed and cowritten by former child star Wesley Barry, Racing Blood was distributed in the US by 20th Century-Fox. Jimmy Boyd, a juvenile singer who'd risen to fame with the hit single "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus", stars as a sensitive stable boy. When a colt is born with a split hoof, its owner decides to destroy it. The animal is rescued by young Boyd, who nurses the colt to health and trains the animal as a racer. Inevitably, the horse is entered in a crucial competition--opposite its own brother, a proven champion. Bill Williams, George Cleveland, Jean Porter and John Eldredge costar in this amiable equestrian yarn. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
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