In Hickory, it’s Indiana basketball that’s king;
And no one in the town supports a change in anything.
Thus, few are pleased when Norman Dale is hired as their coach,
And his divergent methods earn inspection and reproach.
His coaching days were years ago and ended poorly too.
He sees this as his final chance to try and follow through.
In time, he earns his team’s respect, but not so much the town’s.
Most citizens respond to him with gossip, boos, and frowns.
But fellow teacher Myra Fleener warms to Dale a bit,
Since Norman lets the mourning player Jimmy not commit.
Dale also helps one player’s father, Shooter, who’s a drunk,
Assist in coaching, only if he’s sober as a monk.
As victories don’t come in force, the town’s soon had enough
And wants to vote to oust the coach, who’s too headstrong and gruff.
When Jimmy comes to say he’ll play but only for Coach Dale,
They take a second easy vote that lets the doubters bail.
From then on, Hickory’s on fire, achieving great acclaim,
With underdogs and Shooter standing up to win each game.
Though Shooter still falls off the wagon and must stay in bed
And Dale is often banned from games, the Huskers forge ahead.
At last, they win the sectionals and onward still to state,
And Dale insists the giant crowds should not intimidate.
The small town players pray and play the best that they can do,
And Jimmy wins the championship of 1952.

To cap off the Gene Hackman trilogy started with The Poseidon Adventure and Superman, I have arguably his best film, Hoosiers. It’s a powerhouse crowd-pleaser that is often considered one of the best sports films ever. A sleeper hit that far surpassed expectations, Hoosiers has such a winning blend of drama and underdog success, sprinkled with romance and small town charm, that it had to make my list.

Gene Hackman is exceptional as Coach Norman Dale, who never doubts that he is right, even as the town criticizes him left and right and referees banish him for all his angry contentions. Barbara Hershey is a good match for him as Miss Fleener, though she’s a bit young (18 years his junior), and her character gives some sincere reasons for the appeal of small town life, its stability and faithfulness. Dennis Hopper even earned an Oscar nomination for his touching portrayal of town drunk and basketball expert Shooter Flatch. The actual team of eight is full of likable, realistic young men who do quite well in their playing and their interactions, such as Everett Flatch’s reconnection with his father and Strap’s recurrent prayers. However, the film fails to make them all stand out. I could pick out Ollie, the short one, as well as Strap and Jimmy from their usual actions, but most of the boys just blended together without clear distinctions.

The townspeople of Hickory may be stubborn and fickle in their “support” for Dale (or lack thereof), but there are a number of details that make the town something special cinematically. Religion is presented positively and without denigration, such as the high point when an underdog wins a game only after Strap silently prays for him. The redemption of Shooter is also well-handled, and though he succumbs to temptation, it’s clear that his son means enough to him that he is on the way to recovery. In addition, Jerry Goldsmith’s music is one of the great under-appreciated film scores, complementing the game montages perfectly with real basketball sounds incorporated.

While it is unrealistic in its brief depiction of integrated schools in 1952, Hoosiers is mostly clean and undeniably inspirational, rising above most other sports films. My VC (who is not a basketball fan, nor am I) loves this movie with a passion, particularly the score and the characters, and would probably have it in her top 50. It’s not quite there for my list, but it’s still a rousing drama that is sure to leave many viewers smiling and misty-eyed.

Best line (and last line): (Dale, as the camera focuses on a picture of the team) “I love you guys.”

VC’s best line: (Dale, during a game) “Buddy, 41 is killing us—he’s just killing us, all right. Stick with him. I mean, think of chewing gum. By the end of the game, I want to know what flavor he is.” (Buddy, later in the game) “It was Dentyne.”

Artistry: 9
Characters/Actors: 9
Entertainment: 9
Visual effects: N/A
Originality: 8
Watchability: 8
Other (brief language): -1
TOTAL: 42 out of 60

Next: #193 – To Sir, with Love

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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