Week 15 – Indiana
Hoosiers (1986), directed by David Anspaugh, written by Angelo Pizzo, with Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Hopper, Sheb Wooley, Maris Valainis, Kent Poole, Steve Hollar, Brad Long and Wade Schenck
In my social circle, I’m typically the one who recommends movies to my friends. It just so happens that I watch an obscene amount of films — and not only just the obscene ones. Occasionally though, someone does recommend a film for me to watch.
Here’s a tip if you want to get me to watch a movie: do not describe it as “inspiring”.
If you’re going to call a movie inspiring, you had better precede that description with a spoiler alert — because by describing a movie that way, you’re basically telling me the ending of the movie.
You’re telling me that — at the conclusion of this film — some character is going to have overcome some type of adversity or setback, thus allowing the person who just watched the movie to walk away with the feeling that they too might conquer their own personal hurdles.
I’m not a dickbag who frowns on happy endings. I just don’t want to know how a movie ends before I sit down to watch it.
This is important to this week’s review, because Hoosiers was ranked 13th on the American Film Institutes’s “100 Years, 100 Cheers” list of “most inspiring” films. Strike one, to use a sports metaphor. That’s appropriate, since more than one critic has called Hoosiers one of the greatest sports films of all time — which is kind of like calling Under Siege “the greatest Steven Seagal movie of all time,” because … seriously … there are a lot of really bad sports movies. In fact, there are probably more bad sports movies than good ones. Before you meatheads get defensive, bear in mind I could say the same thing about zombie movies.
It’s not just the AFI that throws around the “I word” when talking about Hoosiers. The promise that this movie will change your life was integral to it’s marketing. One of the film’s taglines was “An inspiring movie about second chances.”
Point being, having never seen Hoosiers before, I was walking into it with one hell of a chip on my shoulder. Yet, I chose it because I wanted to throw you — my loyal readers — a curveball this week by going with probably the most obvious choice of a film to represent Indiana rather than something obscure, as I usually do. This is probably not the wisest plan, as nobody read my review a few weeks ago of From Here to Eternity, which was probably the least obscure movie I’ve reviewed up until now.
That’s okay. I don’t need you. I got Hoosiers — and it’s going to inspire me, damn it.
The story: Gene Hackman plays Coach Norman Dale, an out-of-towner brought in to coach a high school basketball team in the rural town of Hickory, Indiana, after the previous coach suddenly passes away. The town folk, who are passionate about basketball, greet Dale with skepticism bordering on hostility. To give you an idea of what type of people we’re talking about, the school principal’s name is Cletus. Enough said.
Dale immediately starts implementing coaching methods that have the townies scratching their heads — with their feet. HA! ‘Cause they’re monkeys, right? I’m kidding about that last part. But seriously, Dale’s idea of “coaching” involves wild stuff like having the team run laps to build up their strength and speed. I know. Really far-out shit. Alright, so some of his ideas are radical — like bringing in former player and town drunk, Shooter (played by Dennis Hopper), as an assistant coach. Nevertheless, you get the impression that nothing Dale does is going to appease the yokels.
The season starts and Hickory’s team starts blowing it big time. Part of the problem is that their star player, Jimmy, left the team after the former coach died. A teacher, Myra (played by Barbara Hershey) says that the coach was like a father to Jimmy. Myra discourages Dale from bothering Jimmy about playing ball. Dale agrees.
After it looks like Hickory is heading toward a losing season, the town gets together and attempts to have Dale removed as coach. Also, Myra finds out that Dale lost a college basketball coaching job prior to moving to Indiana after striking one of his own players.
At a town meeting to decide Dale’s future as coach, Jimmy suddenly decides he wants to rejoin the team under the condition that Dale remain with the team. Myra decides to keep what she’s learned about Dale’s past to herself.
Jimmy’s in. Dale’s in — and the rest is just as you’d expect from the 13th most inspirational movie of all time. Hickory goes to the state championship where they face their greatest challenge yet — black people. Since this was the 1950s, and the stereotype of white people being unable to jump had yet to be fully established, Hickory overcomes the odds and eveyone lives happily ever after, except for the black people. Black people would eventually become quite proficient at basketball.
Oh yeah, along the way Shooter — who promises to quit drinking if he’s brought in as assistant coach — falls off the wagon and embarasses himself by running onto the court in the middle of one of the games. He’s thrown into the looney bin or rehab or whatever they had back then, which doesn’t make a huge difference because he really hadn’t done too much anyway. According to IMDb, prior to shooting the scene where Shooter interupts the game, Hopper asked for 10 seconds so that he could spin around in circles in order to appear drunk when the camera started rolling. Some actors act. Others spin in circles. We miss you, Dennis Hopper.
So that’s that. I wasn’t inspired like I had planned to be, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like the movie. I thought the cinematography was beautiful. The basketball games which take place in the movie were thrilling, even if you kind of knew who was going to win in advance, thanks to some great editing and camerawork, which really made it feel like you were standing right there on the court.
While I enjoyed Hoosiers from a technical point-of-view, however, I thought the acting was nothing out of the ordinary. I guess I expected something more with two great actors like Hackman and Hopper in the mix. The script was alright, although there was a cheesy romance between Dale and Myra which I could have done without.
At least Hoosiers was based on a true story — oh wait, I’m sorry — loosely based on a true story. When I say “loosely”, I mean like how Last House on The Left is a loose remake of The Virgin Spring or how Scientology is loosely considered a religion.
While Hoosiers is inspired by the real life Milan High School basketball team that won the Indiana state championship in 1954, director David Anspaugh made a lot of changes to the source material.
The thing about the former coach dying? It didn’t happen. While there was a change in leadership at Milan prior to its winning season, it was because the team’s former coach — Herman “Snort” Grinsted — was fired for ordering new uniforms without the permission of the school superintendent.
The man who took over for Grinsted, Marvin Wood, was not maligned by the locals the way Dale was hated on in the film. In fact, the first season Wood coached — 1952-53 — the team went to the state semifinals.
The next year, Milan pretty much dominated the season culminating with their championship win — kind of killing the whole underdog angle.
There was no Shooter.
Maybe people don’t realize how far Anspaugh deviated from the “real life Hickory” team. Maybe they didn’t care. Hoosiers grossed $28.6 million when it was released in the theaters in November of 1986 — and I know it didn’t cost nearly that much to make. Hoosiers was a hit with audiences.
Critics loved it too. It was nominated for two Oscars. The first was a Best Supporting Actor nod for Dennis Hopper. The second nomination was for Jerry Goldsmith’s “inspiring” score. I was no fan of this movie’s score, which I thought was heavy-handed and could have been taken down several notches. Hoosiers was shut out at the Oscars by ‘Round Midnight, which won Best Score and by Michael Caine, who won Best Supporting Actor for Hannah and Her Sisters.
Undeterred, Anspaugh would go on to direct even more inspiring sports movies, including another fan favorite starring a certain hobbit who proved everyone wrong when he showed he wasn’t too small to play football for Notre Dame.
Matt D.’s Top Five Sports Movies
3. The Wrestler
What are your top five sports movies? Leave me some feedback and let me know.
Hoosiers on YouTube