Thursday, November 17, 2011

A different football scandal

If you're sick of the things coing on in college football in real life, perhaps you might like to reminisce about the days when everything, including college football, was simpler. And wouldn't you know that TCM is going to be showing such a movie. That film, Navy Blue and Gold, is airing tomorrow morning at 10:30 AM.

The movie is about three young men who all join the Naval Academy, become roommates together, and wind up on the football team together as well. Other than that, they come from different backgrounds. First is Roger (Robert Young), who is the sort of person who wants to coast through life, and thinks that being in the Naval Academy will allow him to find a good wife and retire well-off after doing his one hitch. That's clearly different from John (James Stewart), who is obviously from a more hardscrabble background, although we're not given the full details about that at first. Somewhere in the middle is the third guy, Dick (Tom Brown), who feels a sense of duty to his country even though he could live on easy street thanks to his parents (Samuel F. Hinds and Billie Burke). Dick has a pretty sister Pat (Florence Rice), and in one of the many clichés in this movie, you know that two guys are going to fight over her. (And you know those two guys are going to be the other roommates, Roger and John).

Having mentioned clichés, it's time to point out that this movie breaks no real new ground. There were a lot of college football-themed movies back in the 1930s and earlier, and even one, West Point, set against the backdrop of a service academy. The biggest of the clichés deals with the possible loss of the star player (Stewart) for the big game. John's background was tough largely because his father was drummed out of the navy, under circumstances that the navy itself has gotten totally wrong. When one of the instructors tells John's class the example of his father as one of how not to act in the navy, John stands up for his father, at which point we learn nobody at the academy knew of the father/son relationship. And John, having disguised his identity, has probably violated the honor code, which could get him expelled just in time for the big game against Army....

Speaking of that big game, we've got one man who is really looking forward to it: Lionel Barrymore, who has a smallish role as the oldest living alumnus of the Naval Academy, and a starter on Navy's first football team. (Yeah, right.) Just before the big game, he falls ill and winds up in the infirmary. Will the team be able to win for him?

All in all, Navy Blue and Gold is the sort of movie that should get panned as being trite and mawkish. And yet, it works, largely because of James Stewart's acting ability. He was always good at playing the conflicted but ultimately good sort of character that he has here, even though this time it's early in his career. Unfortunately, Navy Blue and Gold doesn't seem to have gotten a DVD release yet.

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