New script

O, BY THE WAY

List of top 10 films gets a rewrite

On sports movies

August 21, 2008|By BILL ORDINE

Recently, AOL's Moviefone released another list of "Best Sports Movies." While we have no complaints with their choices - Rocky was No. 1 - such lists almost always include a familiar litany of the usual suspects, The Natural, Field of Dreams, Hoosiers and the like.

These are all good movies, but we thought there was some merit in listing sports-themed films you would see only in art houses or on one of those classic-movie channels.

So here's our list of 10 Sports Movies that Almost Qualify as Art.

1. The Harder They Fall. My favorite for reasons to become apparent is this Humphrey Bogart film. In his final role, Bogie - again the anti-hero - plays a sportswriter (ta da!) forced to work for a crooked boxing promoter because his newspaper went out of business. The fighter is a barely disguised version of Primo Carnera. In the movie, the unscrupulous fight manager, Rod Steiger, manipulates the oversized but gullible and incompetent fighter to set him up for a brutal fall. At the end, Bogart has had enough and blows the whistle.

2. Bleacher Bums. The best version was broadcast on PBS as a 1979 video production of a play created by Joe Mantegna and co-written by Dennis Franz along with several others. Of course, Mantegna and Franz went on to big- and small-screen fame (Franz most notably in NYPD Blue). It was remade in 2002 with Brad Garrett. Bleacher Bums chronicles a group of die-hard Cubbies fans spending an afternoon in the Wrigley Field stands. They make bets among themselves and kibitz about the game, but the nine innings are a microcosm of life - its joys, hopes and disappointments.

3. Requiem for a Heavyweight. This was originally a teleplay aired during the golden age of TV drama and written by Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame. In the movie version, Anthony Quinn gives a poignant portrayal of the washed-up pug years before Sly Stallone dreamed up Rocky. And there's no happy ending. In the TV Requiem, it's Jack Palance as fighter "Mountain" McClintock . Both are great.

4. North Dallas Forty. Today, the message of North Dallas Forty, that pro football players are treated like interchangeable parts who keep themselves held together with tape and pills, might be old hat. But in 1979, this thinly veiled depiction of the Dallas Cowboys touched a nerve in the NFL. Former star receiver Tom Fears, who had been a head coach in the NFL and ran a scouting service at the time, worked on the 1979 film as a technical adviser. His three NFL clients dropped him, and he never worked in the league again.

5. Blood and Sand. I guarantee you will not find this movie on any list of top sports movies. The best version of this bullfighting epic was with Tyrone Power in the lead role as a young man who rises from poverty to greatness in the ring only to fall victim to his own celebrity and end up hanging on for one last taste of glory. Sound familiar?

6. Somebody Up There Likes Me. Paul Newman plays in a biographical account of fighter Rocky Graziano's life and career. James Dean was supposed to get the role before he died in an automobile accident.

7. Eight Men Out. This is the tale of the 1919 White Sox who threw the World Series, based on an excellent book by Eliot Asinof. John Cusack plays third baseman Buck Weaver.

8. The Hustler. Paul Newman is "Fast Eddie" Felson, a cocky hotshot pool player who takes on Jackie Gleason's Minnesota Fats. This movie is darker and grimmer than most rise-and-fall-and-rise films.

9. The Cincinnati Kid. Similar to Newman in The Hustler, Steve McQueen is the young gun in this movie, but the game is poker and the veteran archrival is Edward G. Robinson.

10. Horse Feathers. A Marx Brothers farce that ends with a wacky, slapstick college football game.

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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