When examining the domestic melodrama Jim, the World’s Greatest, which concerns alcoholism and child abuse, it’s helpful to consider that the picture’s co-creators, Don Coscarelli and Craig Mitchell, were only 17 when their parents bankrolled the low-budget project. Whereas some movie-crazy kids might have used this opportunity to put sex fantasies or sports fables onscreen, Coscarelli and Mitchell attempted to diagnose a social ailment. Therefore, even though the movie doesn’t quite work, thanks to clumsy plotting and leaden pacing, Jim, the World’s Greatest is in some ways a noble endeavor. Furthermore, seeing as how the project got both filmmakers started on idiosyncratic careers, good things sprang from these humble beginnings.
The “Jim” of the title is a high-school athlete, Jim Nolan (Gregory Harrison), who lives with his preteen brother, Kelly (Robbie Wolcott), and their drunken father, Russell (Angus Scrimm). Because Russell’s emotional problems and substance-abuse issues prevent him from holding down steady jobs, Jim keeps the family afloat with a part-time job at a fast-food restaurant. Jim also serves as his little brother’s protector whenever booze causes Russell to vent his anger by beating Kelly. The story, which is more of a rambling travelogue through Jim’s life than a proper narrative, tracks Jim’s struggles to reconcile all the confusing things he encounters. In terms of girls, Jim likes a smart classmate named Lisa, even though he appreciates sexual advances from another girl. In terms of sports, Jim enjoys doing well on the field but seems unsure whether his future involves athletics or something else. And at home, Jim faces the biggest challenge—standing up to an abusive parent.
Some of the episodes in this film connect, such as Jim’s discovery of why his father resents Kelly, and some feel more like filler, notably a discursive bit during which Jim and Kelly encounter a hang-glider pilot while they’re out wandering one day. Directors Coscarelli and Mitchell shoot the film inconsistently, presenting some scenes economically while letting others drag on and on. Their storytelling is especially unfocused during the climax and the coda, since the filmmakers wrote themselves into a corner. However, the overall tone of the film is mature and sincere, with Harrison endeavoring to infuse his scenes with heartfelt emotion. Accordingly, Jim, the World’s Greatest is best viewed as a promising first stab at filmmaking, particularly for Coscarelli. Later the same year, he released his first solo directorial effort, the youth adventure Kenny & Company, and then, three years later, he found his groove with the cult-fave horror flick Phantasm (1979). The iconic “Tall Man” character in Phantasm and its many sequels was played by Angus Scrimm, the bad dad in Jim, the World’s Greatest.
Jim, the World’s Greatest: FUNKY