Tuesday, May 24, 2016

North Dallas Forty

Over the weekend, I finally got around to watching North Dallas Forty which I DVRed months ago. It's available on DVD, so I'm comfortable doing a full-length blog post on it.

The movie starts off with a scene I found reminiscent of Fat City: Phillip Elliott (Nick Nolte) gets out of bed clad in just his undies to go about his morning routine. Unlike Stacy Keach, however, Phillip's routine is rather more painful, and punctuated by memories of a football game. That's because Phillip Elliott is a wide receiver for the North Dallas Bulls, a professional football team. Phillip apparently both had a big drop and caught the winning touchdown pass in the last game, and that's what he's remembering. Eventually, some of his friends from the team come to pick him up to spend time together on their off day.

Phillip is rather blasé about the whole thing. His quarterback, Seth Maxwell (Mac Davis, whom I'd always thought of as a singer/songwriter, not an actor) is driving Phillip in a car, with linemen Jo Bob (Bo Svensson) and O.W. (John Matuszak, who really was a pro football player earlier in his life) drunk on the hood shooting at cattle. You can see why a non football player would be uncomfortable with the situation, but for a pro player? Well, that's because Phillip is getting on in years as far as football players go. He's not ready to give up the game since that's the only thing he knows, but he does seem to have a sense that his time will be coming.

That night, there's a wild party at one of the player's houses, which is where Phillip meets Charlotte (Dayle Haddon). She's just as blasé and ill at ease with the whole party as Phillip. But you wonder why she even came to the party. Phillip having to show up to his teammate's party is understandable; Charlotte claims she doesn't even like football. You get the sense, however, that the two are bound to wind up together, even though Charlotte leaves the party alone. Sure enough, Phillip leaves the party early and shows up at Charlotte's place, promptly falling asleep on the couch.

Meanwhile, there's a game to prepare for. Phillip's general manager Strothers (I think he's the general manager; he might be the head coach although I don't think he's ever referred to that way, unlike Coach Johnson, played by Charles Durning) tella Phillip that he's not playing as part of a team, and that he has to be more mature. He certainly seems more mature than the rest of the players, who like to carouse in the locker room and at film sessions. But there's also the physical therapy, which is where we can understand why Phillip is getting uncomfortable about the game. The trainers strongly encourage the players to take all sorts of pills and injections. Some players not only do so willy-nilly but are willing to raid the trainer's medicine cabinet for more pills; other players want to treat their body like a temple. All of this is in preparation for the big game in Chicago on Monday night, which is for the conference championship apparently. That game takes up the most of the last third of the movie.

North Dallas Forty is based on a book written by former professional football player Peter Gent; supposedly it's a pretty accurate look at what the NFL was like back in the early 70s. I haven't read the book and so can't comment on it, but I found that this movie version falls flat in spots. First, I found some of the characters intensely unappealing, particularly Joe Bob. Somebody injure him and get him on IR so we can be done with him already. He's a jerk, and not very funny. I also found a lot of continuity issues, for lack of a better description. The film may not actually have any continuity problems, but there's a lot that the screenplay doesn't present so well. It wasn't until near the very end of the movie that I realized the action had all taken place over just one week. There's also the problem with the "conference championship" game, as the movie implies that there will be another game next week for North Dallas regardless of the outcome. I also mentioned the issue with Strothers' position on the team.

Allthat having been said, I think Nolte gives a pretty good performance, and North Dallas Forty is certainly worth one viewing. It's also a movie I would definitely include if TCM were ever going to do one of its monthly spotlights on football. It's just not one I'm particularly interested in watching for a second time.

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