The Games (1970)

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How will it end?/I’ll get to the top./How will you know?  American Scott Reynolds (Ryan O’Neal), Briton Harry Hayes (Michael Crawford), a Czech Army man Pavel Vendek (Charles Aznavour) and an Australian Aborigine Sunny Pintubi (Athol Compton) train for the Rome Olympics marathon and their paths cross at various international meets before the big event which ends up taking place in gruelling heat … That boy’s gonna be our Silver Cloud. Starring Ryan O’Neal, with a screenplay by Erich Segal and a score by Francis Lai. It’s got to be Love Story, right? And yet, wrong. For Michael Winner helmed this paean to distance running and endurance before that classic and this adaptation of a novel by Hugh Atkinson sadly fails to entirely rise to the momentous occasion amid evident effort. Presumably a budgetary problem prevented better cinematography and editing – so much of what could have been a beautiful travelogue looks dreary because a lot is shot in England.  Issues of personal relationships, nationality and race (!) rear their heads, as one might expect. Crawford is the central character – a milkman with an unbelievable running time and he’s fairly unbelievable in the part (his later TV gurning as Frank Spencer is hinted at) but the other roles are more satellites to his story.  However it’s interesting that O’Neal’s character is a Yalie with a heart problem! (See above).  The mentoring relationships are central to the narrative and it’s Crawford’s with the inimitable tough-as-old-boots Stanley Baker that works best although Jeremy Kemp’s with Compton’s is fascinating, given the issues involved. The actual race is quite thrilling and the outcome is hugely satisfying. The crowds are mostly cardboard cut-outs, believe it or not.  Nice to see the real Kent Smith, Sam Elliott and Leigh Taylor-Young (Mrs O’Neal, as an uncredited co-ed) in the cast.  There’s an interesting sidebar about TV coverage and how US scheduling influences sporting events. Notable for a Lai-Hal Shaper song From Denver to LA performed by one Elton John who became famous later that year and had the record (s)quashed. Isn’t the poster rather cool? You run against yourself

Milos Forman 02/18/1932-04/14/2018

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The death has taken place of Jan Tomas aka Miloš Forman, whose arresting anti-Soviet New Wave Czech films (as both writer and director) brought him to the attention of the world in the Sixties. His dyspeptic view of society and politics in films like The Firemen’s Ball made him a predictably iconclastic commentator on American life in Taking Off, his transatlanic debut which also exposed his taste for classic comedy and nearly caused him a total nervous breakdown when it was a commercial failure. He did everything he could to remain in the US. His desire to make Hair would have to wait a decade when the rights were finally acquired. Paired with Jack Nicholson’s powerhouse performance his ability to tailor a zesty confrontational ‘message’ film was encapsulated in the classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a masterful adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel and a tribute too to Michael Douglas’ producing talent. It bears tragedy and humour with equal weight, appropriately considering Forman was at his lowest ebb when he was offered the job. It won the Big 5 Oscars. With Amadeus, one of his Eighties literary adaptations, he was practically an opera conductor in a film which is satanic in its majesty. His taste for salty sociocultural appraisal came to the fore again in the Nineties with portraits of Larry Flynt and Andy Kaufman (Man in the Moon), helping to craft memorable performances about very problematic and eccentric public figures. He never lost his spirit of rebellion and resisted the urge to wallow in bitterness despite having seen his parents taken to concentration camps where they were murdered by the Nazis. Rest in peace.