Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Football films for December 11

TCM is showing a whole bunch of football movies tomorow, several of which are not available on DVD and don't get shown very often. One of them is The Cowboy Quarterback, which I've briefly mentioned a couple of times, at 1:45 PM. Bert Wheeler, after the death of Robert Woolsey, plays a cowboy from Montana who is discovered by a professional football scout (William Demarest) and becomes quarterback for a team called the Chicago Packers (seriously); our hero gets waylaid by gambling, and the folks to whom he owes money want him to throw the big game.

One of the movies that I've never recommended before is Gridiron Flash, which is airing at 10:00 AM. The movie starts off at a prison, where the prisoners are playing football, which is presumably supposed to rehabilitate them rather than take out their violence on each other. Watching them is Howard Smith (Grant Mitchell), a booster for Bedford College. Bedford is one of those staples of Hollywood's college football movies of the 1930s, a school that's likely to go bankrupt if they don't get a winning football team to bring in the money. Smith has heard of a guy who's got great skills at quarterback -- but the guy is in jail on burglary charges, having taken part in some big jewel heists.

That guy, Thomas Burke, is played by Eddie Quillan, complete with big smile every time he runs the ball. Burke has no real desire to play college football, but Smith has a plan for Burke: he can rob the jewels of all the wealthy people who come to the football games! (You'll recall that back in the 1930s, college football was bigger than the professional game; apparently it was perfectly normal for the smart set to go to big college football games.) And if that doesn't work, Smith's got another trick up his sleeve: lovely co-ed Jane Thurston (Betty Furness). Eventually, Burke gives in and decides to play.

The team does well, but deep down inside, everybody really has a standoffish relationship with Burke, and when he doesn't get to be the big man on campus, he has a crisis of conscience and quits the football team. Well, that and some of his old friends from the east who are into robbery. He tries to leave town, gets picked up on spurious charges, and only gets sprung out of jail just in time for him to score the winning touchdown in the big game!

Gridiron Flash is one of those movies that's chock full of the clich├ęs that college football films had in the 1930s. Eddie Quillan is believable as a con artist in the Jack Carson mold, but he's one of the most unlikely football stars you'll ever see. He gets some fun scenes when it comes to the robbery, as he gets to rob a campus cup (Edgar Kennedy), only to discover later that the cop is the father of the Betty Furness character! Margaret Dumont plays a wealthy matron whose house Quillan and Mitchell case. If you like college football movies, Gridiron Flash is passable, but it's nowhere near the first film I'd recommend for college football, or for fans of 1930s B movies.

No comments: