Grambling’s White Tiger (1981, directed by Georg Stanford Brown)


The year is 1968 and Jim Gregory (played by Caitlyn Jenner, back when she was still credited as Bruce) is a hotshot high school quarterback who has just been offered a scholarship to play at Grambling University.  With their star quarterback in his final year, Grambling needs a good backup.  Meanwhile, Jim dreams of playing in the NFL and is excited to play for a program that’s known for producing professional football players.  Grambling’s legendary head coach, Eddie Robinson (Harry Belafonte), is eager for Jim to join the team.

The only problem is that Grambling is a historically black college and Jim Gregory is very much white.  In fact, Jim will not only be the first white player to ever join the Grambling Tigers but he will also be the only white student enrolled at the school.  From the minute that Jim arrives on campus, he discovers that he’s not wanted.  The rest of the team sees him as an interloper and they resent that he took a scholarship that could have gone to a black player.  Meanwhile, the local whites distrust Jim because he’s a student at a black college.

Based on a true story, this is a football film that doesn’t feature much football.  Jim doesn’t get to play in a game until the very end of the season and, even then, he’s only on the field for a few minutes.  He doesn’t win the game or even lead a scoring drive.  Instead of focusing on the usual sports movie clichés, Grambling’s White Tiger instead explores Jim experiencing, for the first time, what it’s like to be a minority.  Jim eventually wins over his teammates through his hard work but he still remains an outsider for the entire film.  When he goes into town, a saleswoman and her boss initially offer him a discount on a pair of boots until they discover that he plays football not for Louisiana Tech but instead for Grambling.  When he first meets the parents of his new girlfriend, he’s told that an interracial relationship will never last and is advised to move on.  When the funeral of Martin Luther King is broadcast on television, all Jim’s teammates walk out of the room one-by-one until Jim is left sitting alone.

In typical made-for-network-TV fashion, Grambling’s White Tiger explores important issues without delving into them too deeply.  (For instance, the fact that Jim’s spot on the team is potentially coming at the expense of a black student is an intriguing issue that is mentioned at the start of the film but never really dwelled upon.)  Harry Belafonte is perfect as the stern but compassionate Coach Robinson while LeVar Burton is likable as the only member of the team to initially welcome Jim.  Jenner, however, is thoroughly miscast and several years too old to play a college freshman.  As an actor, Jenner is stiff and awkward but the true story of Jim Gregory is interesting enough that the film will hold the attention of any football fans in the audience.

Blues On The Downbeat: ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW (United Artists 1959)


cracked rear viewer


Desperate men commit desperate acts, and the three protagonists of ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW are desperate indeed in this late entry in the film noir cycle. This is a powerful film that adds social commentary to the usual crime and it’s consequences plot by tainting one of the protagonists with the brush of racism. Robert Wise, who sharpened his skills in the RKO editing room, directs the film in a neo-realistic style, leaving the studio confines for the most part behind, and the result is a starkly lit film where the shadows of noir only dominate at night.

But more on Wise later… first, let’s meet our three anti-heroes. We see Earle Slater (Robert Ryan ) walking down a New York street bathed in an eerie white glow (Wise used infra-red film to achieve the effect). Slater’s a fish out of water, a transplanted Southerner drifted North, a loser and loose cannon…

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Shattered Politics #80: Bobby (dir by Emilio Estevez)


Bobby_poster

A few years ago, I was on twitter when I came across someone who had just watched The Breakfast Club.  

“Whatever happened to Emilio Estevez?” she asked.

Being the know-it-all, obsessive film fan that I am, I tweeted back, “He’s a director.”

Of course, I could not leave well enough along.  I had to send another tweet, “He directed a movie called Bobby that got nominated for bunch of Golden Globes.”

“Was it any good?” she wrote back.

“Never seen it,” I wrote back, suddenly feeling very embarrassed because, if there’s anything I hate, it’s admitting that there’s a film that I haven’t seen.

However, Shattered Politics gave me an excuse to finally sit down and watch Bobby.  So now, I can now say that I have watched this 2006 film and … eh.

Listen, I have to admit that I really hate giving a film like Bobby a lukewarm review because it’s not like Bobby is a bad film.  It really isn’t.  As a director, Emilio Estevez is a bit heavy-handed but he’s not without talent.  He’s good with actors.  Bobby actually features good performances from both Lindsay Lohan and Shia LaBeouf!  So, give Estevez that.

And Bobby is a film that Estevez spent seven years making.  It’s a film that he largely made with his own money.  Bobby is obviously a passion project for Estevez and that passion does come through.  (That’s actually one of the reasons why the film often feels so heavy-handed.)

But, with all that in mind, Bobby never really develops a strong enough narrative to make Estevez’s passion dramatically compelling.  The film takes place on the day of the 1968 Democratic California Presidential Primary.  That’s the day that Robert F. Kennedy won the primary and was then shot by Sirhan Sirhan in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel.  However, it never seems to know what it wants to say about Kennedy or his death, beyond the fact that Estevez seems to like him.

(Incidentally, it’s always interesting, to me, that Dallas is still expected to apologize every day for the death of JFK but Los Angeles has never had to apologize for the death of his brother.)

Estevez follows an ensemble of 22 characters as they go about their day at and around the Ambassador Hotel.  As often happens with ensemble pieces, some of these characters are more interesting than others.

For instance, Anthony Hopkins plays a courtly and retired doorman who sits in the lobby and plays chess with his friend Nelson (Harry Belafonte).  It adds little to the film’s story but both Hopkins and Belafonte appear to enjoy acting opposite each other and so, they’re fun to watch.

Lindsay Lohan plays a woman who marries a recently enlisted soldier (Elijah Wood), the hope being that his marital status will keep him out of Vietnam.  The problem with this story is that it’s so compelling that it feels unfair that it has to share space with all the other stories.

Christian Slater plays Darrell, who runs the kitchen and who spends most of the movie talking down to the kitchen staff, the majority of whom are Hispanic.  Darrell is disliked by the hotel’s manager (William H. Macy) who is cheating on his wife (Sharon Stone).

And then, you’ve got two campaign aides (Shia LaBeouf and Brian Geraghty) who end up dropping acid with a drug dealer played by Ashton Kutcher.  Unfortunately, Estevez tries to visualize their trip and it brings the film’s action to a halt.

Estevez himself shows up, playing the husband of an alcoholic singer (Demi Moore).  And Estevez’s father, Martin Sheen, gets to play a wealthy supporter of Kennedy’s.  Sheen’s wife is played by Helen Hunt.  She gets to ask her husband whether she reminds him more of Jackie or of Ethel.

(Actually, Martin Sheen and Helen Hunt are cute together.  Much as with Lohan and Wood, you wish that more time had been devoted to them and their relationship.)

And there are other stories as well.  In fact, there’s far too many stories going on in Bobby.  It may seem strange for a girl who is trying to review 94 films in three weeks to say this but Emilio Estevez really tries to cram too much into Bobby.

At the same time, too much ambition is better none.  Bobby may have been a misfire but at least it’s a respectable misfire.