From "Out of Bounds"
This month's edition of Out of Bounds features articles about Notre Dame and Hollywood. From the book Out Of Bounds by Larry Weaver and Mike Bonifer.
The Spirit of Notre Dame ("Dedicated to Football's Immortal Knute Rockne," according to Universal Studios) reeled out of Hollywood in October of 1931, about the time the great coach's memory was seeding a myth. And actually, J. Farrell MacDonald does a creditable job as Rockne, though the meat of his role consists of grimacing on the sidelines and delivering locker room lines like, "When the team's in a tough spot today, pull one out of the bag for Old Truck."
Old Truck is our hero. He goes to the prom and fans himself with the tails of his evening jacket. That's the highlight of the movie for us. The rest of the flick involves a character named the Hockerville Flash, who learns to enjoy being a blocking back while leading the team to a last second victory over Army. This saves Old Truck's life. ..but why go into that here?
The only engaging aspect of this show, in 1931 and today, is the presence of so many old Rambler stars, from the Four Horsemen to Bucky O'Connor. Frank Carideo is especially captivating. He appears to be always restraining himself, with difficulty, from breaking out in whoops of laughter.
Barring an incredibly misguided film festival, the only way you could see The Spirit of Notre Dame today is on the late show. The movie is barely bearable in an uninterrupted screening. The thought of it cut up every five minutes by commercials for rock record collections and vegetable slicer-dicers is enough to make Frank Carideo break down and cry.
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When just about anyone else thinks of Knute Rockne, they likely as not produce a mental image of Pat O'Brien. He was that good in Knute Rockne -All American.
It's a better than average Hollywood biography, that is, a true story told fictionally. So much of Rock's life reads like romance anyway, the dream-makers had an easy time of it. Still, myths and legends, delightful lies about Notre Dame abound because of this thoroughly diverting flick. The school is portrayed as a sort of Schwabb's Drugstore of the gridiron, where every student tries out for the team, hoping to be discovered kicking a football into oblivion and suddenly transformed into an All-American.
Ronald Reagan is riveting as Gipp. He has that freshly scrubbed gee-whiz wholesomeness act down pat. It's great for impressing one-eyed voters, but it's no more like Gipp than the Hockerville Flash.
Recently, the image has not fared as well. Take John Goldfarb, Please Come Home. Nothing is so painful to sit through as a self-described mad-cap romp that instead limps along with the pace of a Woody Hayes offense. William Peter Blatty was guilty of the script, which loosely involved the Notre Dame team with a U-2 pilot and some harem girls. Not content with irritating the C.S.C.'s., Blatty later penned The Exorcist to get in some digs at the Jesuits. What he will do next to the Dominicans is anybody's guess.
Did we say irritating? Notre Dame disliked the movie so much they sought an injunction against its release, thus providing this sure-fire flop with reams of free publicity. What "Banned in Boston" did for Lady Chatterly's Lover, Father Hesburgh's lawyers did for Goldfarb. Except that you can spend a minute or two with Lady Chatterly without getting the urge to switch to something like TV reruns of Wally's Workshop.
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At this writing,  two new Notre Dame movies are in the planning stage, but that's standard procedure. Quite a few have been researched and dropped. References to school and team will always pop up, some good, some bad. The movie Looking for Mister Goodbar tried to sketch the twisted religious fervor of a neurotic Catholic by having the character wear a Notre Dame jacket around the house. Ah, yes, film as insight; and failing that, a cinematic cheap shot.
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