There’s not a single sports cliché that goes untouched in The Program.
A veteran college football coach who, after two disappointing seasons, is now being told that he must get wins at any cost? Check!
A cocky senior quarterback who is trying to live up to his father’s expectations? Check!
A cocky freshman who matures during the season? Check!
A cocky NFL prospect who suffers a career ending injury? Check!
Corrupt rich backers? Check!
Football groupies? Check!
Halle Berry wasted in a one-note role? Check!
Kristy Swanson as the one girl on campus who is not impressed by football? Check! Check! Check!
The Program has its good points. James Caan does a good job as the coach and Andrew Bryniarski, playing a player who is always on the verge of flying into roid rage, dominates every scene in which he appears. Kristy Swanson looks good in a tennis outfit, so it’s not all bad. But Craig Sheffer is neither credible nor likable as the star quarterback and there is not a single scene that won’t be seen coming.
When The Program came out in 1993, it included a scene where the team bonded by laying down in the middle of a busy street, while cars zoomed by on either side of them. Things turned out alright for the people in the movie but, for the idiots who tried to imitate the stunt in real life, it was a different story. It turns out that, in real life, drivers don’t always stay in their lane and, if you lay down in the middle of the street, there is a good chance that you are going to get run over. After several deaths, the scene was taken out of the film. If you’re going to die for a movie, do it for a movie better than The Program.
Culver City’s MGM “dream factory” and Gower Gulch’s PRC were miles apart both literally and figuratively. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer boasted “more stars than there are in heaven”, while tiny Producer’s Releasing Corporation films starred faded names like Neil Hamilton, Harry Langdon, Bela Lugosi , and Anna May Wong. MGM films featured lavish, opulent sets; PRC’s cardboard walls looked like they would fall over if an actor sneezed. Poverty Row PRC movies were dark and grainy; MGM created glossy, gorgeous Technicolor productions. MGM specialized in big budget extravaganzas, whereas PRC rarely spent more than $1.98. Miles apart – so why did major studio MGM purchase and release a movie originally made for minor PRC, HITLER’S MADMAN?
For one thing, it’s a damn good film, and an important one as well. Based on the true-life atrocity of the destruction of Lidice, Czechoslovakia on June 10, 1942 after the assassination of Nazi Reichsprotektor Reinhardt Heydrich, known as “The Hangman of Prague”, HITLER’S MADMAN was…
What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!
If, at one in the morning on Wednesday, you were suffering from insomnia, you could have turned over to TCM and watched the 1970 film, Rabbit Run. That’s what I did.
Rabbit Run is the epitome of a dumb lug film. In a dumb lug film, a male character finds himself living an unfulfilling life but he can’t figure out the reason. Why can’t he figure it out? Because he’s a dumb lug, with the emphasis on dumb. Usually, the viewer is supposed to sympathize with the dumb lug because he doesn’t mean to hurt anyone and everyone else in his world is somehow even more annoying than he is. Typically, the dumb lug will have an emotionally distant wife who refuses to have sex with him and who is usually portrayed as being somehow at fault for everything bad that has happened in the dumb lug’s face. (Want to see a more recent dumb lug film than Rabbit Run?American Beauty.) Ever since the silent era, there have been dumb lug films. In particular, male filmmakers and critics seem to love dumb lug films because they allow them to pat themselves on the back for admitting to being dumb while, at the same time, assuring them that everything is the fault of the wife or the girlfriend or the mother or the mother-in-law.
In Rabbit Run, the dumb lug is named Harry Angstrom (James Caan), though most people still remember him as Rabbit, the high school basketball star. Harry’s life peaked in high school. Now, he’s 28 and he can’t hold down a job. He’s married to Janice (Carrie Snodgress), who spends all of her time drinking and watching TV. He has a son and another baby is on the way. One day, when the pregnant Janice asks him to go out and get her a pack of cigarettes, Harry responds by getting in his car and driving all the way from Pennsylvania to Virginia.
When he returns to Pennsylvania, Rabbit doesn’t go back to his wife. Instead, he drops in on his former basketball coach (Jack Albertson) and begs for advice on what he should do. The coach, it turns out, is more than little creepy. He also has absolutely no practical advise to give. He does introduce Rabbit to a part-time prostitute named Ruth (Anjanette Comer). Rabbit quickly decides that he’s in love with Ruth and soon, he’s moved in with her.
Meanwhile, there’s all sorts of little things going on. Rabbit gets a job working as a gardener. Rabbit befriends the local Episcopal minister (Arthur Hill), even while the minister’s cynical wife (Melodie Johnson) tries to tempt Rabbit away from both his wife and his mistress. Rabbit both resents and envies the sexual freedom of the counter culture, as represented by his younger sister. And, of course, Janice is pregnant…
Rabbit Run is based on a highly acclaimed novel by John Updike. I haven’t read the novel so I can’t compare it to the film, beyond pointing out that many great works of literature have been turned into mediocre movies, largely because the director never found a way to visually translate whatever it was that made the book so memorable in the first place. Rabbit Run was directed by Jack Smight, who takes a rather frantic approach to the material. Since Rabbit Run is primarily a character study, it needed a director who would be willing to get out of the way and let the actors dominate the film. Instead, Smight overdirects, as if he was desperately trying to prove that he could keep up with all the other trendy filmmakers. The whole movie is full of extreme close-ups, abrupt jump cuts, intrusive music, and delusions of ennui. You find yourself wishing that someone had been willing to grab Smight and shout, “Calm down!”
(On the plus side, as far as the films of 1970 are concerned, Smight’s direction of Rabbit Run still isn’t as bad as Richard Rush’s direction of Gettting Straight.)
James Caan actually gives a likable performance as Rabbit, which is good because Rabbit would be totally unbearable if not played by an actor with at least a little genuine charisma. There’s nothing subtle about Caan’s performance but he makes it work. You never like Rabbit but, at the same time, you don’t hate him.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing subtle about the rest of the cast either. Something rather tragic happens about 80 minutes into the film and, as much as I knew I shouldn’t, I still found myself giggling because Carrie Snodgress’s performance was so bad that it was impossible for me to take any of it seriously. Even worse is Arthur Hill, as the minister who won’t stop trying to help Rabbit out. I eventually reached the point where, every time that sanctimonious character started to open his mouth, I found myself hoping someone would hit him over the head and knock him out. Among the major supporting players, only Anjanette Comer is allowed a chance to be something more than just a sterotype. Like Caan, she does the best that she can but ultimately. this is James Caan’s movie.
It’s a disappointing movie but it did not put me to sleep. Give credit for that to James Caan, who is the only reason to see Rabbit Run.