Dir: Robert Aldrich
Star: Burt Reynolds, Eddie Albert, Ed Lauter, Michael Conrad
Was there a time when this kind of thing could ever have been considered anything except cliched and predictable? A bunch of misfits come together for a game against a seemingly invincible opponent. They band together just in time for the big day and, overcoming the odds, take the contest down to the very last play of the game. Sheesh. I do think we need to give this one the benefit of the doubt as being one of the earlier examples, and it’s done with just enough verve to seem somewhat less than dreadfully dated, though seeing Paul ‘Wrecking’ Crewe (Reynolds) smack his girlfriend about, is not a 21st-century way to introduce your audience to the hero.
Once he reaches prison, after stealing her car and getting into a drunken brawl with Florida, things get onto a somewhat surer footing, with not quite the same shift in culture over 30 years. The warden demands he start a convicts’ gridiron team, to give the guards’ outfit some suckers to beat up. Crewe, naturally, isn’t going to play the patsy. My, there is a lot of American football in this. I think about the last forty minutes is taken up by the cons vs. warders game, and unless you have a knowledge of and interest in the game, you will probably find yourself wanting to fast-forward through a good chunk.
However, Reynolds brings an easy, good-natured charisma to proceedings, and the earlier part of the film has something of Cool Hand Luke to it, as Crewe strives to retain his independence and character, in the face of relentlessly inhumane treatment by the guards. That side of things is more interesting, and even this non-football fan can appreciate that, and the way he goes about assembling a team is also entertaining, basically luring the biggest thugs and psychopaths with the promise of getting to take it out on the guards. However, if you prefer the beautiful game – and that includes most of the world’s population – you are probably a good deal better off watching soccer-based remake, Mean Machine.