Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Games (1970)

A few months before they collectively hit paydirt with the sappy romantic tragedy Love Story (1970), star Ryan O’Neal, writer Erich Segal, and composer Francis Lai collaborated on The Games, an impressively produced but hopelessly trite drama about four long-distance runners preparing for their grueling competition in the Olympic marathon. Based on a novel by Hugh Atkinson, the movie follows parallel storylines, developing potboiler drama about what might or might not happen on the day of the big race in Rome. O’Neal plays Scott, an American stud accustomed to easily winning every race he enters; echoing the tragic strains of Love Story, he develops a heart condition and, thanks to the enabling behavior of his best bud (Sam Elliott), a habit of taking speed to maintain his edge during races. Michael Crawford, later to achieve fame as the star of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage production The Phantom of the Opera, plays Harry, a cheery British milkman who gets discovered and mentored by a merciless trainer (Stanley Baker) obsessed with breaking records. French actor/singer Charles Aznavour plays Pavel, an aging Czech runner enlisted by his Soviet overlords to reenter competition because Harry recently broke Pavel’s most famous speed record, which was a point of Soviet pride. Rounding out the cast is Athol Compton as Pintubi, a guileless Aborgine discovered and exploited by a sleazy Aussie promoter (Jeremy Kemp). Will Scott’s heart hold out? How will Harry fare when the brutal Italian heat exceeds 90 degrees? Can 40-year-old Pavel keep up with younger runners? And how will Pintubi fare, especially since he’s such a child of nature he prefers running barefoot? Discovering the answers to these questions involves a few fleeting moments of human drama, particularly in Harry’s storyline, but Segal’s writing, as in Love Story, is so superficial that the movie feels like an appetizer instead of a meal. The performances are generally fairly good, even if nearly every actor is forced to personify a cliché, and the production values are noteworthy since the picture was shot in Australia, Austria, England, Italy, and Japan. So, while The Games is pleasant and features many interesting details about world-class running, it’s completely forgettable.

The Games: FUNKY

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