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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

KNUTE ROCKNE ALL AMERICAN (1940)

While this loudly sentimental bio-pic retains a dollop of fame as the film where Ronald Reagan tells his coach to ‘win one for the Gipper,’ there’s not much else memorable in this programmer. Pat O’Brien was an odd kind of movie star and, as the eponymous Notre Dame football coach, he uses the same unpleasant manner & brusque delivery he brought to all his roles.* (And Warner Bros. did him no favors with a blondish receding hairline that makes him look like Jack Benny.) Add in some by-the-numbers megging from Lloyd Bacon and the film threatens to come to a complete standstill. As the loyal Rockne wife who hopes for a bit of vacation time, Gale Page is a complete nonentity. (She’d soon fade from the screen.) And even Reagan is a bit, well, amateurish, though his sheer presence is formidable. (The acting would quickly improve.) A decent supporting cast walk thru their roles (has Donald Crisp ever done less?) with the film only fitfully coming to life during some archival footage that features lots of lateral passing (yeah!) and during a sequence that shows how Knute was inspired to create a ‘shifting offense’ after watching an all-gal chorus line. If only Bacon could have bothered to stage it with a little pizzazz. By the way, the ‘K’ in Knute is sounded.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: *For O’Brien, the exception to the rule came in his co-starring vehicles with pal James Cagney. TORRID ZONE/’40 lets them work up a fine vaudevillian rhythm of mutual respect & loathing that gives O’Brien’s dyspeptic line readings something they can bounce off of. Nothing sticks to Cagney when he’s wearing that awful little moustache he grew to annoy boss Jack Warner.

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